WHEELING - Winning three hockey games in three nights is never easy. Beating the same team in all three is even more impressive.
Saturday night Wheeling turned the trick, grabbing its third consecutive triumph against Elmira, in a game the Nailers trailed twice in the opening period before settling down and taking control late in the third.
Mike Ratchuk's first goal of the campaign following a long rebound at the 17:37 mark of the third period proved to be the game-winner after Wheeling had battled from behind most of the night to complete the sweep with a hard-fought, 5-4 victory at WesBanco Arena.
Photo by Joe Lovell
Wheeling goaltender Eric Hartzell gets full extension on a save during Saturday night’s game against Elmira.
It was the second one-goal victory in the bunch for Coach Clark Donatelli's squad (6-5-0-1 - 13), which gained six points in the standings the last three days and climbed into first in the Atlantic Division, a point ahead of Reading.
"They are a good, very well coached team and we knew we would have our hands full," Donatelli said. "It is very hard to beat a team three games in a row, they came out hard and fighting like we expected. I am just glad we got the late goal and time ran out on them."
For the second night in a row it was the Jackals finding the net first with forward Matt Carter flipping one over goalie Eric Hartzell's glove at the 13:29 mark of the opening period. Carter's third goal of the season came a mere second after a Wheeling power-play had expired.
That goal also opened the flood gates as the Nailers knotted the count four minutes later on a Zack Torquato backhand past Maxime Clermont on his way past the corner of the net at 17:24.
Elmira stole one at the 18:53 mark on a one-timer off the stick of Jordan Pietrus, but Wheeling got it right back on Cody Sylvester's fifth of the campaign, a top-shelf effort with Torquato and Carter Rowney assisting. The game-tying shot came with 31 seconds remaining in the opening period and was also the only one of six successful power plays.
It didn't take the hosts long to get the lead for the first time, coming back out for the second period. Actually, it took just 2:22 on a pretty, breakaway backhand from forward Max MacKay, who beat Clermont to the corner of the post for a 3-2 upperhand.
Both teams managed a goal in the second period, however, both also missed numerous opportunities. In all, the teams combined for six power-play chances, four by the Nailers, who have struggled with the man-advantage all season long.
There were also four 4-on-4s in the period and a pair of 4-on-3s that Wheeling was unable to convert.
Elmira reclaimed the lead early in the third, finishing off something the Nailers were unable to all night long, a power-play chance. Jakub Culek's pass from behind the goal line was blasted into the net by Artem Demkov at the 2:59 mark to give the Jackals a 4-3 advantage.
The Nailers spent the entire game chasing and having to come back, and they did it again at 7:14 on Denver Manderson's second of the year, on a nice feed from Rowney to again tie the contest, this time at 4-4.
Ratchuk's tally, on assists from Torquato and Harrison Ruopp, however, decided the game and capped a very successful three-game swing for Wheeling.
"It came down to the last 20 minutes and we won the third period," Donatelli said with a smile. "It was three totally different kinds of games with them, but you never know what you are going to get.
"Our guys just did a great job feeding off of each other and learning that it is the little things that go a long way. These guys are starting to come together as a group and we will need that with our next five games on the road.
"Doing the right things, getting the details right and going out and trying to win the first eight shifts are things that we are focusing on. And being consistent, that is also a big one. We want to break things down into five-minute segments and win as many of those as we can.
"We have a lot of young players, 14 rookies including the goalies actually, and they are fresh and willing to learn. But one of our veterans Zack (Torquato) had his best game of the three (Saturday). He put the puck on net a lot, got a goal and had a very good night, which was nice to see.
"This team just showed so much character in battling like we did. Good, solid defense creates good offense and we are getting that right now."
Elmira2 1 1 - 4
Wheeling2 1 2 - 5
1st Period-1, Elmira, Carter 3 (Degon, Pietrus), 13:29. 2, Wheeling, Torquato 2 (Manderson, Miller), 17:24. 3, Elmira, Pietrus 1 18:53 (SH). 4, Wheeling, Sylvester 5 (Torquato, Rowney), 19:29 (PP). Penalties-Gill Whl (slashing ), 5:35; Miller Whl (interference), 11:27; Bourbeau Elm (holding), 18:04; Bourbeau Elm (unsportsmanlike conduct), 20:00; Stevenson Whl (unsportsmanlike conduct), 20:00.
2nd Period-5, Wheeling, MacKay 1 (Johnson), 2:22. 6, Elmira, Bellamy 3 (Degon), 16:41. Penalties-Johnson Whl (misconduct - continuing altercation), 2:22; Alber Elm (holding), 5:07; Pietrus Elm (roughing), 7:36; Ruopp Whl (roughing), 7:36; Carter Elm (high-sticking), 8:18; Stevenson Whl (cross-checking), 10:49; Veilleux Elm (roughing), 11:44; Zlobin Whl (slashing ), 13:58; Demkov Elm (roughing), 14:27; Pietrus Elm (tripping), 17:03.
3rd Period-7, Elmira, Demkov 8 (Veilleux, Culek), 2:59 (PP). 8, Wheeling, Manderson 2 (Rowney), 7:14. 9, Wheeling, Ratchuk 1 (Torquato, Ruopp), 17:37. Penalties-Grassi Whl (high-sticking), 2:03; Veilleux Elm (diving), 7:37; Hartzell Whl (tripping), 7:37; served by Miller Whl (bench - too many men), 9:38.
Shots on Goal-Elmira 15-8-10-33. Wheeling 12-13-6-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Elmira 1-6; Wheeling 1-6.
Goalies-Elmira, Clermont 0-4-0-0 (31 shots-26 saves). Wheeling, Hartzell 2-2-0-1 (33 shots-29 saves).
Referee-Chris Pitoscia (3); Linesmen-Zach Roberts (84), Justin Eckman (72).