WHEELING - Wheeling Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said last week he and the club would treat the impending seven-game road trip like a playoff series. To that end, the Nailers find themselves in a position where they must win three of the final four, beginning Friday night at Toledo's Huntington Center.
''We're down 2-1 in the series and that's how it's set up,'' Donatelli said following practice Wednesday at Wheeling Park Memorial Ice Rink. ''We want to get all of them if we can, but we're going to take it period-by-period.''
Coming off a southern swing to Greenville and Gwinnett where they lost 2 of 3, the Nailers (22-20-9 - 53) find themselves in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. The good news for Wheeling, is that it holds at least one - as many as six - game in hand on everyone.
''We are close,'' Donatelli said. ''We go to Toledo now and there's going to be 8,000 in the building and it will be tough.
''Then we go into Cincy and they're at the top of the conference, and then Fort Wayne. We're going to take it one at a time.''
The Nailers finish off the trip next Wednesday at Elmira, the team they are chasing for second place in the Atlantic.
In Wheeling's most-recent game - a 3-2 decision against the Road Warriors on Monday - the team benefited from the clutch play of goaltender Peter Delmas, who stopped 35 of 37 shots to earn his 10th victory.
''Delly made some good saves and (Chris) Barton scored early'' in the shootout, Donatelli said. ''We gave up the late goal to make it 2-2, but the guys really battled back.
''Our fate could have been a little bit different but those are good teams, Greenville twice and Gwinnett.''
North Is Tough
If you're wondering how the Nailers are stuck in the position they are, look no farther than their record against their former foes in the North Division. Entering Friday night's game, Wheeling is 4-7-2 against Cincinnati, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo and Toledo.
The Nailers have a winning record against two of the three Eastern Conference divisions.
''They're all good,'' Donatelli said.
Prayers for Randy
Chances are, if you've been a Nailers game you've met super fan Randy Stephens. The young man has had a difficult time in life as he's battling cancer for a third time.
The thing that always impresses me about Randy, a Wheeling resident, is I have never seen him without a smile on his face. This despite all he's had to endure.
For my money, there has never been a more positive person to roam this earth. Have never heard him complain, though he has every right to do just that.
Randy's gone through some tough times in the last couple weeks. Both he and his family could use some good thoughts.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net.