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Nailers Net Victory in 2,000th Game

Photo Joe Lovell Wheeling’s Nick Rivera dives for a lose puck during Friday’s game. Rivera scored the game-winner.

WHEELING — The Wheeling Nailers commemorated their 2,000th game in team history with a brilliant performance on Friday night.

Wheeling rallied from down 2-0 with two second period goals in 23 seconds and added three third period goals to wallop the visiting Utah Grizzlies, 5-2 inside WesBanco Arena.

The win puts an end to Wheeling’s five-game losing skid.

“It was a team effort for sure,” said Nick Rivera, who just returned this week from a stint in the AHL with Binghampton. “It’s a testament to our leaders. They really held our bench together and we really focused on our forecheck and I think that’s when our game really elevated. We made a couple of big shifts. Up and down the lineup you saw guys enjoying the forecheck. That’s our identity and I thought we showed it and got a great outcome.”

After falling behind 2-0 in the first on a power play goal and a goal that immediately followed a Utah power play, the Nailers were finally able to kill the Grizzlies’ league-leading 24.5% power play attack in the second.

“They scored on the power play in the first and they looked pretty good on the power play,” Nailers’ coach Mark French said. “We reached a moment where you know you have to dig your heels in and get the kill. It was nice to see that 2 minutes expire.”

The Nailers (6-13-4) flipped the switch after the crucial penalty kill. With Utah (12-6-3-5) handling the puck, rookie Matt Alfaro stole the puck at the blue line, raced past center ice and buried a shot into the cage to extend his seven-game point streak.

“The momentum was definitely swinging our way,” Alfaro said. “We just needed that one bounce, that one odd-man rush to get the game going. Luckily, I made a play at the blue line and was able to finish.”

Twenty-three seconds later, Austin Fyten, playing in his 400th pro game in North America, delivered the equalizer when he blasted a pass from Sean Josling into the back of the net.

“I think getting that first goal early in the second — Alfaro’s goal — was big,” French said. “It gave us a little bit of momentum and obviously being able to follow it up so closely after to draw it even and we kept building momentum.”

Entering the third in a deadlock, Rivera stepped in front of an errant Utah pass in the attacking zone and quickly whistled a shot into the right side of the net for the go-ahead goal.

“We have some guys who are tenacious,” French said. “Teams are vulnerable when you get those kinds of turnovers and we did a good job of that.”

The energy in the building with 1,037 fans cheering provided Wheeling with another advantage down the stretch.

Vladislav Mikhalchuk delivered a filthy back-handed pass to Matt Miller, who torched a shot into the net for his first goal of the season and Cody Sylvester added an empty netter for the finishing touches on a great night in Nail City.

“We fed off that energy,” French said.

“Once we got going in the second period, we got a good response from our fans and at it was nice to feel the relationship between the players and the fans.”

Francois Brassard was huge in net for Wheeling, as well, stopping 24 shots to collect his third win of the year.

In what was the team’s 2,000th game in team history, it was certainly a fitting finish.

“It’s a testament to the organization,” Rivera said. “Two-thousand games — that’s a milestone and we felt the energy in the building.”

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