WHEELING - Clark Donatelli couldn't believe his eyes. His Wheeling Nailers looked primed to finish off Friday night's Atlantic Division duel against Reading (26-8-2 - 55) with an empty-net goal, but before he knew it the play was going the other way.
David Marshall's second effort on a breakaway got past Peter Delmas as just 16 seconds remained. But the Nailers (16-13-6 - 38) avoided a crushing loss as Adam Payerl beat Sergey Kostenko with the winner in the sixth round of a shootout for a 5-4 victory at WesBanco Arena.
''It would have been tough just the way we gave up that fourth goal,'' Donatelli said. ''We couldn't have set the game up any better: Thirty-five seconds to go, up 4-3 and Cody (Wild) and (Carl) Sneep on the point.
Reading’s Matt Pope (17) tries to jam the puck past Peter Delmas (29) while defended by Zach Hansen (15).
''It's just ridiculous with two American League defensemen out there.''
Wheeling needed both points, what with American Hockey League call-ups and signings expected to swing into motion this morning. The Nailers already lost defenseman Andrew Hotham to Oklahoma City and Donatelli said he expects to lose ''one or two forwards'' to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton today.
Given the Baby Pens' lack of goal scoring, it's assumed the two heading that way will be Paul Crowder, who has scored five in his last six games, and Chris Barton.
Reading2 0 2 0 - 4
Wheeling1 2 1 0 - 5
1st Period-1, Reading, Marshall 11 (Pope, Almeida), 1:02. 2, Wheeling, Torquato 1 (Sneep, Minella), 10:59. 3, Reading, Comrie 12 (Wellar, Tifu), 18:26. Penalties-Payerl Whl (slashing ), 4:37.
2nd Period-4, Wheeling, Zurevinski 10 (Sneep, Crowder), 1:33. 5, Wheeling, Payerl 1 (Barton, Child), 13:44. Penalties-McNeill Whl (delay of game), 6:36; O'Connor Rea (double - roughing), 18:56; Payerl Whl (roughing, boarding), 18:56.
3rd Period-6, Wheeling, Crowder 15 (Wild, Delmas), 1:19 (PP). 7, Reading, Tifu 13 (Cox, Molle), 3:41. 8, Reading, Marshall 12 (Tifu, Almeida), 19:44. Penalties-Almeida Rea (hooking), 0:57; Crowder Whl (hooking), 7:21.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout - Reading 2 (Pope NG, Tifu G, Marshall G, Champagne NG, MacDonald NG, Kashirsky NG), Wheeling 3 (Barton G, Torquato NG, Veilleux G, Pither NG, Lenes NG, Payerl G).
Shots on Goal-Reading 13-7-5-1-0-26. Wheeling 9-7-6-2-1-25.
Power-Play Opportunities-Reading 0-3; Wheeling 1-1.
Goalies-Reading, Kostenko 1-0-0-1 (24 shots-20 saves). Wheeling, Delmas 6-3-0-1 (26 shots-22 saves).
Referee-Andy Thackaberry (22); Linesmen-Jim Scarpace (50), Justin Eckman (72).
''I'm just waiting to talk to Wilkes-Barre because I think they're losing a few forwards'' to Pittsburgh, Donatelli said. Forward Eric Tangradi and defenseman Simon Despres are already with the Penguins, who likely begin training camp Sunday. ''They have a game (today) and then they play Tuesday.
''So whomever goes, I'm imagining they are going to play both those games.''
Reading got on the board 1:02 in when Marshall beat Delmas for his 11th after coming out of the corner and putting the puck over the goaltender's shoulder for his 11th.
The Nailers tied it at the 10:59 mark when Zack Torquato wristed a rolling puck past Kostenko from the point for his first of the season. Carl Sneep, who had a pair, and Christiaan Minella earned assists.
''He really had some jump,'' Donatelli said of Torquato. ''He's moving and shooting the puck and he's playing with a lot of different guys.''
The Royals took a 2-1 lead to the locker room thanks to Adam Comrie's 12th of the season. It could have easily been 3-1 or even 4-1, were it not for the play of Delmas, who stopped 22 of 26.
''Delly came up big. He made some really great saves when he had to,'' Donatelli said.
Wheeling got even 1:33 into the second when Scott Zurevenski rifled his 10th of the season - he's scored in four straight - on a one-timer in the slot. Payerl then got his first by beating Kostenko high over the glove immediately following Reading's Kirk MacDonald ringing the crossbar on the other end.
''They're definitely a team we see a lot of so it's important to establish ourselves as a team that's going to battle with them every night and let them know they're not going to get any easy nights off,'' Payerl said. '' It was a good homecoming, for sure.''
Crowder then went to work on the power play, netting his team-leading 15th on a spectacular move coming down the right side, finishing on the backhand.
''That was quite a goal, huh? Unbelievable,'' Donatelli said. ''He's gifted, he works really hard and he deserves a chance. I think that chance will be coming soon.''
The Royals fought back as Yannick Tifu netted his 13th at 3:41 of the third. Then Marshall knotted it with Kostenko on the bench for the extra attacker.
The same two teams will meet tonight at 7 inside WesBanco.