WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers (34-25-6 74 points) have taken pride in not getting rattled in third periods, and that was no different in Friday night's contest at Wesbanco Arena as they overcame a tying goal by the Toledo Walleye (19-39-5 43 points) in the opening minute of the final frame to power their way to a 5-3 victory.
"Our coaches motto is we don't lose third periods," said Nailers forwad Chaz Johnson, who had a goal and an assist.
"We just stick with it. We got as many shots on net as we could and they just started going in for us."
Wheeling Nailers’ Christiaan Minella approaches the puck in front of Toledo net Friday night at WesBanco Arena.
It was not just one line or a select group of players getting the job done for Wheeling either, as it had six different players record multiple points.
"It's a dynamic lineup, all three of our lines are hard to play against," said Nailers coach Clark Donatelli. "Our concept is if we play good solid team defense it creates offense and we saw that here tonight."
Toledo got on the board first with 2:22 remaining in the opening frame when ex-Nailer Ryan Flanigan snuck a rebound past Nailers starter Eric Hartzell (31 saves) for his fifth of the season on the power play. Assists went to J.P. Burkemper and Kyle Bodie, and the Walleye led 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Already trailing, Wheeling found themselves in a pivotal moment early in the middle frame after slew of penalties foced them to kill 1:47 of a 4-on-3 disadvantage against the second ranked power play unit in the league, and they were up to the task.
After the kill, the momentum shifted, as Wheeling came back with 12 of the next 13 shots including goals just 2:01 apart to propel the Nailers ahaead.
Johnson jammed the puck past Toledo starter Hannu Toivonen at the 11:06 mark with assists from Paul Cianfrini and Sahir Gill, then Christiaan Minella put home a Max Mackay rebound working on the power play. Zack Torquato picked up his first of two helpers on the goal, and Wheeling led 2-1 after two periods.
That lead did not last long in the final frame as a turnover left Toledo's Travis Novak all alone in front and he slid the puck through Hartzell's legs to even the score just :24 in. Jake Chelios picked up the lone assist.
Shane Bakker lit the spark that gave Wheeling the momentum back 4:46 in, dropping the gloves with Ryley Grantham, and 3:57 later Tyler Fernandez put Wheeling back on top.
Chaz Johnson made a nice play at his own blue line, then worked it into the zone where Fernadez evenually knocked home his own rebound. Pat McGrath picked up his first point of the season with an assist.
MacKay netted the eventual game-winner with 8:15 remaining sniping a shot glove side on Toivonen after a nice set up by Minella. Cianfrini picked up his second assist of the contest on MacKay's 15th of the season.
"Minella cut across the middle and dropped it to me," said MacKay. "I shot it through a screen and it happened to go in. It's good to contribute."
The Walleye pulled within one less than a minute later on Matt Abercrombie's fourth of the season with a lone assist from Kyle Gibbons, but it would be as close as they got.
Peter Merth put the icing on the cake with 4:51 remaining firing his second of the season through a screen, and Wheeling added a big two standings points to their season total with the win.
Wheeling remains in seventh place in the Eastern Conference playoff race and plays its next five on home ice starting Sunday afternoon when the Elmira Jackals come to town. "We hold our playoff hopes in our own hands," said Johnson. "We have a good home stretch here, we've got to play one game at a time and control what we can control."