Gardiner Leads Nailers To 6-3 Win vs. Thunder

The Wheeling Nailers celebrate a goal by defenseman Ross McMullan (3) during a victory against Adirondack on Wednesday night.

The Wheeling Nailers celebrate a goal by defenseman Ross McMullan (3) during a victory against Adirondack on Wednesday night.

WHEELING — In the wake of three games in three days last weekend, Wheeling took advantage of back-to-back days off.

The Nailers took the ice recharged and scored just over a minute into the action, which was their fastest score to start a game this season, and never looked back in a 6-3 win over Adirondack at WesBanco Arena on Wednesday.

“We gave our guys the two days off because we needed it,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said. “They were so tired and when I asked them what they did, they just said ‘we rested.’ It’s just that part of the year. It’s a grind.

“I think rest is a weapon as we say around here. We have two big games before the all-star break and then a nice long break, too, so we have to take care of business going forward.”

The rest clearly paid off as Riley Bourbonnais showed off his speed when he stole the puck in the defensive zone and made a breakaway, zipping down the ice and whistling a shot into the top-right corner of the cage to give Wheeling the early edge just 1:09 into the game.

“It’s always good to get the first goal,” Christian said. “Usually in hockey, the team that scores first and the team that gets to three first usually wins. That’s the rule of thumb.

“We’ve had our difficulties getting that first goal over the course of the season. It’s a big anomaly around here when we get outshot, we win. It’s not by design, we want to outshoot our opponents.

“We just had quality chances and our guys took care of business and buried their chances.”

Everybody got involved in the action for Wheeling as five different players recorded a goal and 13 different players picked up at least one point.

“That’s how we do it around here,” Christian said. “It’s a total team effort. We don’t have superstars. We don’t have one guy who can carry the team. We have to have consensus and have everybody on board.

“I always say that we either have 100 percent commitment or we have nothing.

“This team started off and we kind of lost everybody. (Derek) Army left, (Cody) Wydo left and the team kind of fell apart there for a second but now it feels like it’s getting back together and that’s the ebb and flow of the season.”

One player who was back on the ice for the Nailers was Reid Gardiner, who made his return after a stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Gardiner’s impact was felt all night as he peppered the net with seven shots and netted a pair of goals.

“Coming back I just wanted to keep playing at a higher pace and keep my feet moving,” Gardiner said. “I want to continue to improve on things that I’m not very good at.

“I tried to learn something new everyday in Wilkes-Barre like I did last year. I think just learning from different guys and how they prepare themselves everyday helped a lot. I think I can take away a lot of things and bring it back down here to my game.”

Just three minutes following the opening goal, Wheeling got busy again. This time Zach Tolkinen sent a long pass to Garrett Meurs, who weaved his way down the ice before finally blistering a shot from the top of the slot and into the net.

Nailers goalie Adam Morrison also collected an assist on the goal.

The Thunder got on the board with a little less than two minutes left in the first as Tim Harrison scored their 33rd power-play goal of the year.

Ross McMullan netted his second goal of the season and the only goal of the second period when he deflected a missile off the stick of Dan Milan and past Thunder goalie Drew Fielding for a 3-1 advantage.

Gardiner took over the third period when he recovered a rebound from his own shot and buried it in the net for a 4-1 lead.

After a quick answer by Adirondack cut the lead in half, the Thunder went on a power play but it was Troy Josephs and Cam Brown leading a 2-on-1 breakaway down the ice. Brown secured the puck, deked once and delivered a thrilling backhanded goal for Wheeling.

The Thunder answered once again but Wheeling got the last laugh on a power-play goal as Gardiner deposited a one-timer into the cage to deliver the dagger.

“Gardiner had a big game coming back for us,” Christian said. “Brown had a big game for us. I thought our defense was good and I thought Morrison played pretty well.”

Morrison gathered 37 saves in the win, while Fielding stopped 22 for the Thunder.

Adirondack 1 0 2 — 3

Wheeling 2 1 3 — 6

1st Period-1, Wheeling, Bourbonnais 11 1:09. 2, Wheeling, Meurs 14 (Tolkinen, Morrison), 4:07. 3, Adirondack, Harrison 5 (Radjenovic, Rodrigues), 18:05 (PP). Penalties-Josephs Whl (hooking), 6:26; Gardiner Whl (high-sticking), 16:26; Bergin Adk (slashing), 19:57.

2nd Period-4, Wheeling, McMullan 2 (Milan, Turner), 3:35. Penalties-No Penalties

3rd Period-5, Wheeling, Gardiner 15 (Schulze, Francis), 5:52. 6, Adirondack, Ward 9 (Conacher, Brodeur), 6:34. 7, Wheeling, Brown 9 (Josephs), 11:32 (SH). 8, Adirondack, Loney 18 (Brodeur, Ward), 13:16. 9, Wheeling, Gardiner 16 (Sorkin, Brown), 17:34 (PP). Penalties-Fick Whl (slashing), 11:14; Armstrong Adk (tripping), 17:10.

Shots on Goal-Adirondack 12-12-16-40. Wheeling 10-6-12-28.

Power Play Opportunities-Adirondack 1-3; Wheeling 1-2.

Goalies-Adirondack, Fielding 7-3-0-0 (28 shots-22 saves). Wheeling, Morrison 5-7-0-0 (40 shots-37 saves).

A-1,172

Referees-Chris Pontes (12).

Linesmen-Zach Roberts (84), Joe Sherman (46).

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