WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers haven't so much as looked at the Kelly Cup Playoff brackets, insisting the only series that matters is the one they will try to close with a sweep of South Carolina at 7 tonight inside WesBanco Arena. The Nailers lead the Stingrays 3-0 in their Best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Was Wheeling to glance, however, it would find that second-seeded Kalamazoo trails No. 7 seed Greenville, 2-1, in a tight-checking series where each game has been decided by a single goal. That translates to some extra time off for the Nailers if they end their series tonight, which would be welcomed by a host of bruised bodies.
''We'd like to end the series,'' Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''We can't give them as many Grade-A scoring chances and we've got to stay out of the (penalty) box.
Photo by Joe Lovell/Wheeling goaltender Mike Condon minds the net while Wheeling defenseman Matt Grassi (14) battles with South Carolina forward Jordan Owens (8) outside the crease during Game 3 of Round 1 of the Kelly Cup Playoffs Wednesday in Wheeling.
''They're not just going to die.''
The Nailers earned this opportunity thanks to a 1-0 victory in Game 3 on Wednesday night, as goaltender Mike Condon slammed the door on South Carolina with a 38-save shutout, his second of the series and eighth of the season. Condon leads the postseason in goals-against average (0.63), save percentage (.980), and is second in victories (three).
''You never want to give a team like South Carolina a chance,'' said Condon, who has stopped 97 of 99 shots. ''If the series (had) gone 2-1 that's a totally different mentality.''
Wheeling enters tonight leading the special-teams battle by a considerable margin. It hasn't given up a power-play goal in 11 chances, which leads the playoffs, and is 2 of 13 on the man advantage for a 15.4 percent conversion rate, which is seventh in the league. Those numbers are amplified this time of year.
''I don't think we really executed well,'' on the power play Wednesday,'' Donatelli said. ''We never really got it set up because South Carolina kind of changed some things up to come at us a little differently, which we expected.
''We have to make some changes on the fly.''
While the Stingrays are having issues putting pucks in the net, the Nailers are receiving offensive contributions from just about everyone. Through three games, all but three of the 16 skaters that have played have at least one point, led by Max MacKay, whose assist Wednesday gave him a series-high three points. Christiaan Minella, who had the lone tally in Game 3, and Chaz Johnson lead the way with two goals each.
''The hardest one is the one that ends the other team's season,'' said Minella, who is tied for the league lead with 17 shots. ''We've got to come out flying in the first period and take it one shift at a time.
''The team's peaking at the right time and it starts with Condon. To have him playing his best is huge for us.''