ECHL PLAYOFFS: Road Warriors Strike Early to Force Game 7

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Wheeling coach Stan Drulia insists this is no time to panic. Not when he liked the way just about everything but the final score turned out Tuesday night.

Brendan Connolly scored a pair of goals while Andrew Carroll, playing his first game after returning from the AHL earlier in the day had three points, as Greenville evened the Best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal with a 6-3 victory against the Nailers at the Bi-Lo Center. The seventh and deciding game is scheduled for 7:35 tonight in Greenville.

“I thought we controlled a lot of the game,” said Drulia, whose team lead 30-24 in shots. “I betcha we had 42 – their shot counter isn’t very accurate down here.

“We still need everybody at 100 percent. We’ve got three, four, five guys playing at 85 percent of what we expect out of them.”

The Road Warriors, like they did Saturday night in Wheeling, put this one away early. Carroll deflected in a Marc-Andre Bourdon point shot on the power play at 4:56 of the first after Wheeling goaltender Peter Delmas was called for what his coach called a questionable slash, and Connolly punched home a Shane Harper rebound less than 2 minutes later to make it 2-0.

That marked the end of the night for Delmas, who was pulled for the second consecutive game after allowing the two goals on four shots. Patrick Killeen stopped 16 of 20 the rest of the way.

“I can tell you right now Peter Delmas is going in net (tonight),” Drulia said via cell phone. “We didn’t play very well in front of him Saturday and he wasn’t great (in Game 6), but he’s our guy.”

Back on the power play after a roughing call to Joey Haddad – he was whistled for three minors – Greenville made it 3-0 at 10:43 as Andrew Rowe took a stretch pass from Blake Parlett and broke in all alone on Killeen, who he deked and beat for his second of the postseason.

The Road Warriors had four first-period opportunities with the man-advantage. In the three games in Greenville this series, the Road Warriors have 12 power plays in the opening 20 minutes, and Wheeling has none.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Drulia said.

Connolly notched his fifth of the playoffs at 13:32 of the second to make it 4-0. He broke in down the right boards on a 3-on-1, elected to keep the puck and shoot it over Killeen’s glove.

The Nailers finally capitalized on what had been a plethora of scoring chances to that point, when center Doug Rogers used a curl-and-drag move to beat Greenville goaltender Nic Riopel for his first at 14:34 to make it 4-1. Just 29 seconds later Rogers threw a puck toward the net from the right point that somehow eluded Riopel to cut the deficit in half.

“Those two goals were huge,” Drulia said. “Our goal going out for the second period, was to win it.

“I thought we had a number of chances. If we could have made it 4-3 … .”

Wheeling almost did cut it to a one-goal game as Brandon DeFazio nearly stuffed one in on the short-post side early in the third, and Andrew Lord’s rebound shot somehow found its way into Riopel’s grasp.

Minutes later, Haddad’s turning wrister in the slot caught the Warriors’ goaltender off-guard, but Riopel managed to turn it away.

Greenville’s Chris McKelvie then started a string of three straight alternating goals, followed by Wheeling’s Dan Henningson (first) and the Road Warriors’ Marc-Oliver Vallerand (fourth), to close out the scoring.

Now it’s win-or-go-home for both clubs.

“It’s one night for all the marbles,” Drulia said. “We’ve played 76 games and another 10 in the playoffs. There’s no reason to be yelling at our guys, being in their ears.

“The pressure is all on them. We weren’t supposed to be here.

“We’ve got a chance to do something special.”