Nailers Sweep Homestand
By SHAWN RINE
WHEELING – The bandage above Adam Ross’ left eye could be seen as a synopsis of a brutal, eight games in 11 days stretch for the Wheeling Nailers, who are beaten, bruised and banged up heading into the Christmas break. But they’re also climbing up both the American Conference and Atlantic Division standings, having completed a perfect 6-0 homestand with a 4-2 victory against the Elmira Jackals on Saturday night at WesBanco Arena.
Phillipe Lefebvre banged in a rebound for his eighth of the season at the 16-minute mark of the third and Chris Barton added an empty-netter with less than 30 seconds remaining, as Wheeling (12-10-5 – 29) earned its 13th and 14th points in the last 16 days.
”We’re all looking forward to the rest,” Ross said. ”The homestand we knew was big for us.
”Obviously we were down there at the bottom of the standings (so) when you get the chance to play this many home games in a row, I think we did a pretty good job the last couple weeks.”
Wheeling has been so dominant that it has not trailed in more than five games (307:16). That being said, the Nailers had to find a way to win this one without their ‘A’ game.
”When you’ve played as many games as we have in the last few weeks, sometimes they are not always going to be pretty,” Ross said. ”It was good to get out there and kind of grind one out and do what we had to do to get the two points.”
Wheeling, which improved to 11-2-3 at home, got on the board first when Lefebvre fired a shot from the left circle that Elmira (12-13-3 – 27) goaltender Marc Cheverie could not handle. Cam Fergus was there to pound home the rebound for his fourth at 7:27.
That’s the way it remained until nearly seven minutes had elapsed in the second period. Former Nailers defenseman Jordon Southorn gathered in his own blocked shot and wristed the puck over the shoulder of Wheeling goaltender Scott Darling, who improved his record to 5-5-2 with a 19-save performance.
Ross dropped the gloves with Jean Bourbeau and the two put on quite a show late in the second. One punch after another connected with each player refusing to go down.
”It was a good one,” Ross said with a smile. ”It’s something that every once in a while it’s fun to do.
”Jean Bourbeau is a pretty tough guy and he just goes in there and starts throwing them.
”I just tried to do what he was doing.”
Andrew Hotham netted a power-play goal 2:20 into the third, the 10th game in a row the Nailers have scored with a man advantage, to retake the lead. Paul Crowder won the face-off cleanly back to Hotham, who wristed the puck ice level past Cheverie for his fifth goal of the season. He has registered 12 points in 10 games with Wheeling.
”Now more than ever points are becoming more and more important every night,” Ross said. ”We’re getting later and later into the season and it was an easy excuse almost to say ‘there’s a lot of hockey left.’
”But those are the times at the end of the year and you think back and say ‘oh wow, we really needed those points.’ Those ones in November and December are just as important as two in January and February. We needed every point we could get.”
Elmira fought back to tie it again as Artem Demkov scored his second in as many nights and 17th of the season, this one on the power play with less than 15 minutes remaining.
But somewhere, somehow the Nailers dug deep to find a little extra in their weary legs and slowly began tilting the ice in their favor. Cheverie gave up a another rebound, this one on a Crowder shot, and Lefebvre was there to put it in for the game-winner.
”Even kind of before the season starts, this is the kind of stretch you notice on the schedule,” Ross said. ”The good thing is they were all home games. It’s a great chance to be home for a while and be comfortable.
”That makes a big difference when you’re sleeping in your own bed every night.
”We knew we needed the points.”