ECHL Playoff Recap: Wheeling Nailers Vs. Toledo Walleye Game 3 | 05/08/2024

Lewandowski goes through the line after tying the game at 1.
Photo Credit: Drake Harlett | Inside The RInk

The Wheeling Nailers are in a 0-3 hole in the Central Division Finals after a 7-3 loss to the Toledo Walleye Wednesday night at WesBanco Arena. The Nailers could not find a way to stop the absolute domination tandem of Sam Craggs and Riley Sawchuk in the game. With the win, Toledo extends its win streak to 21 games.

Sam Crags found himself on the scoresheet four times, posting two goals and two assists. Sawchuk had himself a night with five points with two goals and three assists.

John Lethemon picked up the win in net for the Walleye, stopping 19-of-22.

Jaxon Castor was between the pipes yet again for the Nailers, stopping 16 of 21 shots he faced in the losing effort. Castor played 31:28 before Garrett Sparks came in relief to stop all seven shots he faced.

The Nailers’ powerplay and penalty kill were disastrous for them all night, going 2-for-5 on the penalty kill and 0-for-3 on the powerplay.

First Period

The first big opportunity came for the Nailers just 22 seconds into the first frame as Dillon Hamaliuk found Matthew Quercia on the back door and dished a pass to him. Lethemon was more than ready for the early test as he moved laterally to deny Quercia two opportunities and another for Hamaliuk to keep the game scoreless.

Since finding their grove in the third period of game one, the Walleye have been a completely different team from the first two periods of that game. The Walleye carried that play early into game three as they opened the scoring at 2:44 off Sawchuk’s first goal of the night. Wheeling was doing everything right to keep Toldeo pinned in its zone, but a mishandling of the puck by Phip Waugh at the blueline allowed Sawchuk to pick the puck up and sprint down the ice with no one but the goaltender in sight. Sawchuk moved in tight on Castor to shoot the puck over the shoulder to the glove-hand side of Castor, giving the Walleye the 1-0 lead.

At 9:35, Castor came up huge with a glove save to keep the Wheeling deficit to just one. Having been a threat all series, Mitchell Lewandowski had the puck along the goal line, and all Wheeling eyes were on him. Trenton Bliss was able to sneak behind the defenders and into a wide-open position to receive a pass from Lewandowski. The puck was quickly on and off the stick of Bliss, but Castor was there going laterally to rob Bliss.

Just seconds later, at 10:04, Lethemon needed to come up with a big stop on the other end. Quarcia flew into the Walleye zone, circled the net, and found Hamaliuk crashing the net on the back door side. Quercia made a pass over to Hamaliuk and Lethemon made a huge right-pad save to freeze the puck to keep a 1-0 Walleye lead.

Lethemon came up big for Toledo again at 10:48, but this time, it was on a breakaway chance for Matt Koopman. Evan Vierling forced a turnover on a Walleye player and poked the puck to the neutral zone for Koopman to skate into the path of the puck. Koopman would start wide on the left-wing side and cut to the center of the ice just in front of the blue paint. Koopman tried to slip the puck five-hole on Lethemon, but Lethemon was having none of it and slammed the door shut on that opportunity.

Wheeling’s Jordan Frasca would be assessed a minor penalty for roughing after sticking up for his teammate, who was hit into the boards after the whistle at 12:13. This gave Toledo its first powerplay of the game, and they would capitalize on it with just 13 seconds to go to extend its lead to 2-0. Wheeling made things too easy for the Walleye as Craggs was allowed to walk directly to the front of the net from the right-wing boards with no pressure and put a shot on that would beat Castor on the left-pad side. Sawchuk picked up his second point of the night with the primary assist, and Michael Prapavessis picked up the secondary assist.

While shorthanded on a Justin Addamo tripping call at 14:41, the Nailers beat Lethemon to bring the game to 2-1. A blueline turnover by Prapavessis proved to be costly as Quercia sprung Koopman for a breakaway with a man down and did not miss on this one-on-one opportunity with Lethemon. This time, Koopman went in straight down the middle, stick handle, and quickly moved to the backhand and roof the puck top shelf on the glove side of Lethemon.

The one-goal deficit did not last too long as the Walleye extended their lead to two again at 18:19. Off an offensive-zone faceoff for the Walleye, Craggs was able to push the puck forward and into the slot for Brandon Kruse to skate into. Kruse had Castor guessing as Castor went down early, and Kruse was able to skate the far side of the net and put the puck into a wide-open net. Castor got a piece of it, but it was not enough to keep the puck from trickling in.

Toledo led 3-1 after the first period, outshooting the Nailers 12-10. The Nailers went 0-for-1 on the powerplay in the period and 1-for-2 on the penalty kill.

Second Period

The Nailers were in penalty trouble early to start the period. Louie Roehl would first be called for tripping at 2:11, then David Drake and Quercia, along with Orrin Centazzo for the Walleye, were all called for roughing at 3:02, giving the Walleye a 5-on-3 powerplay. The Walleye extended their lead to 4-1 on the 5-on-3 at 3:33. Some nice passing to get the Nailers defender to collapse on their goaltender allowed for the Walleye to have even more room. Castor let up a bad-angle goal from just below the left-wing faceoff dot that beat him five hole as he stayed on his feet. Sawchuk picked up his third point of the night with the primary assist, and Lewandowski picked up the secondary.

Three and a half minutes later, the Nailers were back on the board to bring the game to a 4-2 scoreline. Toledo would ice the puck, and off the ensuing faceoff, the Nailers needed just 13 seconds to find the back of the net off that Walleye mistake. The puck would go from Jordan Martel down low to Lukas Svejkovsky up high. Svejkovsky moved from the blueline to the slot, looking shot the whole way. Drake would get himself open on the left-wing side and get a dish pass from Svejkovsky to bury the puck on a wide-open net with 12:57 to go in the second period.

The Nailers were again in penalty trouble as Martel would be called for roughing at 10:03 and the Walleye made the Nailers pay for another costly penalty. A beautiful passing play and quick movement between Sawchuk, Jason Willms, and Craggs led to the Walleye taking a 5-2 lead. Craggs received a pass from Willms at the goal line and moved out to swap places with Willms. Drawing a defender out of position, Craggs moved the puck quickly down to Willms, who quickly found and dished a pass to Sawchuk in the right-wing circle to riffle a shot on the far side to beat Castor up high on the blocker. This would end Castor’s night as he would be replaced by Sparks to make his 2024 Kelly Cup Playoff debut.

At 14:58, Quercia answered back with a goal to make it a 5-3 game. A puck that was thrown on net by Davis Bunz from below the goal line was whacked at by Quercia, who would not stop until the puck was in the back of the net.

Toledo again carried a two-goal lead into the second intermission, leading 5-3 on the scoreboard and 23-15 shot total through two periods of play. Wheeling went 1-for-3 on the penalty kill.

Third Period

Only putting up seven shots in the third period was nowhere near enough for the Nailers to make a comeback.

The Nailers emptied their net at 17:25 to try and spark a comeback, but Alexandre Doucet buried the empty-net goal to make it 6-3. Sawchuk recorded his fifth point of the night, picking up the lone assist.

At 18:51, Toledo added another empty-net goal for good measure, as Craggs would get this one. Centazzo and Matt Anderson picked up the assists on the goal.

What’s Next

The Wheeling Nailers’ season is on the line Friday night in game four as they face the Toledo Walleye in a must-win game

Zachary Alvarado

Inside The Rink journalist covering the Wheeling Nailers and Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. I am a Duquesne University Sports Information and Media major graduating in December. I have been passionate about hockey since I was 4 years old.

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