Nailers Earn Crucial Victory
Meurs nets game-winner in 5-2 win against Worcester
WHEELING — As far as the Wheeling Nailers roster goes, it’s currently a mismash of players from different leagues and even some that are even straight out of school. But in the middle of a critical 11-game stretch against fellow North Division teams, Coach Jeff Christian said this is no time to be making excuses.
The Nailers (30-23-7 — 66) didn’t Wednesday morning inside WesBanco Arena. Playing in front of the second Education Day crowd of the season on home ice, Wheeling scored a 5-2 victory against a Worcester (26-25-7 — 59) team that is chasing it for the division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
”We challenged our guys between the second and third periods to step up,” Christian said. ”We said, ‘maybe this isn’t Game 7 of a playoff series, but this is like a pivotal Game 3.
”It’s a must-win at home and you’re tied 2-2. We had some outstanding chances there in the third period, but their goalie stood on his head.”
That Mitch Gillam did. He robbed Garrett Meurs of what looked like a sure goal with 13:47 to go, then did it again by going post to post to turn aside Freddie Tiffels with less than 10 minutes remaining.
”But then we got a little flubber to go in,” as Christian put it.
That one came off the stick of Meurs, who stationed himself in the midslot with 13:04 gone in the third and one-timed a Riley Bourbonnais feed past Gillam, who finished with 20 saves.
”It was very frustrating with the clutching and grabbing that we didn’t have one power play,” Christian said. ”But you just stay with it and keep working.
”We’ve just been scrapping and battling and this was a huge win. We’ve got to carry the momentum into this weekend.”
This weekend — Friday and Saturday at home — is when Reading comes to town. The Royals are one point ahead of Wheeling in third, but have a pair of games in hand. The Railers, who came in six points behind Wheeling, had to be dealt with in the present.
It didn’t take the Nailers long to light the lamp as Tiffels raced in down the right wing and found the tiniest of holes to beat Gillam just 1:16 into the game. It was the 12th goal of the season for Tiffels, with Troy Josephs and Bourbonnais adding assists.
”Great individual effort by Freddie there to get us one early,” Christian said. ”Generally the first team to score goes on to win.”
Worcester tied things at the 8:47 mark of the period, with the first of its two power-play goals. Nick Saracino was credited with his ninth after he deflected in Matthew Gaudreau’s shot.
But the Nailers regained the lead before the end of the period with the teams playing 4-on-4. Defenseman Ross McMullan took a feed from team leading-scorer Cody Wydo and rifled his fourth of the season into the cage with less than 4 to go. Reid Gardiner earned the secondary helper.
As Christian pointed out, though, the game was tied 2-2 heading to the third. That’s because the Railers recorded the lone marker of the second period, also coming with a man advantage.
Ryan MacKinnon’s point blast caught the stick of Chris Langkow, who at the right moment was flying in front of Wheeling goaltender Adam Morrison, who stopped 33 shots.
”I thought Adam played really well,” Christian said. ”He made some big saves when we needed them and he gave us a chance to win.”
Meurs’ 20th opened the floodgates in the third. Racing for a loose puck, Wydo was tackled at center ice with the Worcester goal empty, which by rule results in an automatic goal, his 24th. With Gillam back in the cage, Tiffels added his second and 13th of the season 10 seconds later to seal Wheeling’s eighth victory in nine tries during morning games.
Worcester 1 1 0 — 2
Wheeling 2 0 3 — 5
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Tiffels 12 (Francis), 1:16. 2, Worcester, Saracino 9 (Gaudreau, MacKinnon), 8:47 (PP). 3, Wheeling, McMullan 4 (Wydo, Gardiner), 16:23. Penalties-Descoteaux Whl (tripping), 7:03; Lane Wor (holding), 14:24; Meurs Whl (hooking), 14:24.
2nd Period-4, Worcester, Langkow 17 (MacKinnon, Almeida), 5:34 (PP). Penalties-Fick Whl (tripping), 3:29; McMullan Whl (holding), 4:42; Bourbonnais Whl (slashing), 11:33.
3rd Period-5, Wheeling, Meurs 20 (Bourbonnais), 13:04. 6, Wheeling, Wydo 24 18:41 (EN). 7, Wheeling, Tiffels 13 (Josephs), 18:51. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Worcester 13-14-8-35. Wheeling 8-7-10-25.
Power Play Opportunities-Worcester 2-4; Wheeling 0-0.
Goalies-Worcester, Gillam 13-13-0-1 (24 shots-20 saves). Wheeling, Morrison 13-11-1-0 (35 shots-33 saves).
Referee-Stephen Thomson (27). Linesmen-Michael Fusani (41), Joe Sherman (46).