Nailers Staying Alive

WHEELING – Trailing by a pair of goal in both the first and second periods Sunday, Wheeling came to life in the third, blasting in four goals and rallying for a much needed, and much earned, victory against Kalamazoo.

Paul Crowder and Chris Barton combined for seven points, Max MacKay scored the first two goals of his professional career and the Nailers did an outstanding job on penalty kill, shutting the K-Wings down on four chances and adding a short-handed score as Wheeling rallied for an impressive 6-4 triumph against Kalamazoo in front of an appreciative crowd at WesBanco Arena.

Coach Clark Donatelli watched his Nailers (25-23-3-7 – 60) move to within one point of ninth-place Kalamazoo (28-26-4-1 – 61) in the Eastern Conference standings. It was also the second victory in as many days on the home ice after a 3-0 shutout of Trenton on Saturday night.

“Every game is a must win for us and we are going out and trying to win them all,” Donatelli said. “Everyone knows what is going on and they all just want to go out work, play hard and not get caught looking ahead”

While things turned out good in the end, they sure didn’t start real good for the home squad.

After finishing off the shutout less than 24 hours earlier, Peter Delmas had one slide through the wickets just 1:43 in as the Nailers found themselves in an early 1-0 hole. Center Kory Karlander’s shot found its way into the net on assists from Alexandre Grenier and Joe Charlebois.

Grenier helped add to the Nailers’ woes in the first period with a pretty pass from behind the net that was deposited by a hard-charging John Armstrong at the 9:50 mark for a 2-0 reading.

But Wheeling managed to get right back into things a short time later, doing it the hard way. Forward Cam Fergus’ blast from 5 feet in front of the net earned a short-handed tally as the Nailers quickly cut the deficit in half at 11:39.

The lead grew back to a pair of goals at 7:43 of the second on Grenier’s third point of the afternoon, this one on a close-in goal with help from Armstrong, whom he had earlier assisted with.

Wheeling did get one back late in the second, cashing in on a power-play chance. With a crowd in front of the net, and play continuing on as the puck was loose, Keven Veilleux managed to get just enough on it for the puck to trickle past goalie Joel Martin for a 3-2 score after two periods.

Max MacKay’s first goal of the season came at a very opportune time, finally getting the Nailers back to even at 3-3 at 1:58 of the third. Just as they had on Wheeling’s second goal, Paul Crowder and Chris Barton were both credited with helpers.

The Nailers found the lead for the first time in the game at 8:57 of the third on Jordy Trottier’s second of the year. Wheeling actually had two chances leading up to the goal on a wrap-around attempt and a rebound, the second putback, from Trottier, beat Martin for a 4-3 upper hand.

With Wheeling’s continuing to be active around the net, the third period onslaught continued at 13:13 on Barton’s 16th goal, another rebound that the Nailers’ buried to all but complete the comeback and take control at 5-3.

The K-Wings did get one back at 15:00 on a goal from Yann Sauve, but it was too little, too late for the visitors.

MacKay’s empty-netter at 19:19 sent the arena into an uproar as the Nailers closed out their second big victory of the weekend.

“Overall the guys played real hard against a good, veteran hockey club,” Donatelli added. “We had to come out and win the third period, and we did. We stuck together to the finish, which is all I can ask them to do, and I am proud of how they did it.

“Special teams played very well also, our penalty kill has been good at home and on the road. The guys are sacrificing their bodies and paying attention to detail with a lot of pride. We are also getting power-play goals to the net. If you keep shooting, chasing the loose pucks and winning 1-on-1 battles you are going to score and have a chance to win.

“We got some rebound goals (Sunday) as well, and it is nice to see them playing well in the hard areas in the paint. Crashing the nets and getting what we call “dirty” goals on second, third and fourth efforts.”

While shutting down all four of Kalamazoo’s power-play chances, the Nailers also outshot their guests by a 41-22 margin.