ECHL Playoffs Recap: Wheeling Nailers Vs. Toledo Walleye Central Division Finals | Game 1

Mitchell Lewandowski celebrates his game-tying goal late in the third period.
Photo Credit: Drake Harlett

Game one of the Central Division Finals between the Wheeling Nailers and Toledo Walleye did not disappoint at the Walleye took game one 2-1 in overtime Friday night at Huntington Center in Toledo, OH. John Lethemon picked up the win between the pipes for the Walleye, stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced.

The Nailers stuck with the hot hand in net with Jaxon Castor, despite Taylor Gauthier being reassigned to the Nailers from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins following their elimination from the American Hockey League playoffs. Castor played well yet again, stopping 33 of the 35 shots he faced in the losing effort.

Jordan Martel scored the lone goal for the Nailers.

First Period

Toledo had its first good chance early in the first period, just 49 seconds in. Wheeling’s Justin Lee would make a costly turnover in his own zone right to the tape of Walleye’s forward, Brandon Kruse. Kruse quickly laid the puck off the Sam Craggs, who gave the puck right back to Kruse in the center of the ice for a quick shot. Castor was up for the early task as he corralled the puck in his midsection for a stoppage.

Just 40 seconds after the Walleye’s first good opportunity to open the scoring, Wheeling went back the other way for it’s first opportunity, but were unable to capitalize on the chance. David Drake would be on a 2-on-1 break down the Walleye’s end with Lukas Svejkovsky. Rather than electing to pass the puck to Svejkovsky, Drake riffled the puck off the crossbar over the blocker side of Walleye goaltender, Lethemon.

The first period ended scoreless with the Nailers outshooting the Walleye, 8-6. Wheeling killed off the only penalty called in the period.

Second Period

The Nailers did an excellent job of limiting the Walleye to minimal shots on goal in the second period. Wheeling surrendered just six shots for the second straight period, and put up 11 on the Toledo netminder.

On their 10th shot of the period and 18th shot of the game, the Nailers finally broke open the scoring at 12:23. With the puck in the Wheeling end, Walleye forward, Brady Gilmour, chased the loose puck into the corner and threw an errant pass back to the blue line with no defender in the vicinity of it. Wheeling captain, Justin Addamo, picked up the puck in the neutral zone and used his speed to create a 2-on-0 break back the other way into the Walleye end. Addamo laid the puck off to Martel to get a quick shot off and bet Lethemon to the glove side.

Photo Courtesy of Drake Harlett | Inside The Rink

Wheeling limited Toledo to just two shots following the Martel goal that made things 1-0. The Nailers kept the foot on the gas to pressure Toledo into not gaining any momentum.

Wheeling led the shot count in the final frame, 11-6 and 19-12 through 40 minutes of play. Wheeling went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill and 0-for-1 on the powerplay.

Third Period

The deadly Toledo team that can threaten the attack finally showed up in the third period. The Walleye were firing everything on net from any angle they had as they put up 17 shots in the third period alone, and limiting the Nailers to just 2 with no room to build on their lead.

On their 13th shot of the period, Toledo solved the hot hand of Castor to make it a 1-1 game at the 14:40 mark of the third period. As the Nailers went for a line change, Toledo saw its opening as Lewandowski quickly transitioned up the ice back into the Wheeling end. Lewandowski would have the puck stripped of his stick, but did not give up on the play as he won it right back, and swatted the puck out of the air, through the wickets of Castor and into the back of the net.

The third period ended in a 1-1 scoreline, which meant this game needed to be decided in overtime. Toledo held a 29-21 shot advantage after it’s monstrous 17-shot third period.

Overtime

At 10:51, Toledo completed its comeback and took a 2-1 win and a 1-0 lead in the series. Brandon Hawkins was the overtime hero for the Walleye. Matt Anderson, with the great awareness of where his teammates were, made a quick-up pass to Trenton Bliss. Bliss would make a beautiful toe-drag move to the inside to beat a Nailers defender, and make a pass over to Hawkins as he was falling. Hawkins from an almost impossible angle below the right-wing circle, found a bit of daylight over the shoulder of Castor and put it right under the bar to send their hometown fans happy.

Courtesy of Drake Harlett | Inside The RInk
Photo Courtesy of Drake Harlett | Inside The Rink

What’s Next

Wheeling and Toledo will meet once again inside Huntington Center in Toledo, OH for game two Saturday night. The game is slated for a 7:15 start.

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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