After a week off, the Greenville Swamp Rabbits headed on the road to Indiana for a game against the Indy Fuel and then to Toledo for two back-to-back games against the Walleye. Before the game against Indy, the Rabbits were in 3rd place in the South, with the Jacksonville Icemen and South Carolina Stingrays tied for first. All the teams just listed had games: the Icemen would go against the Orlando Solar Bears and the Stingrays against the Maine Mariners. The game in Indy was one to take seriously for the Rabbits as the race for a playoff clinch was imminent, and a division race against rivals was circulating. A win for the Rabbits would carry on a high-division stand. And so it did, for both the Rabbits and Stingrays. The Stingrays would win 7-3 against the Mariners, putting them in 1st place in the South and 4th in the league.
Starting in the first period in Indy, the Rabbits would show high confidence against the Fuel with aggressive forechecking. However, the Fuel and Rabbits would end off the 1st scoreless, putting up 11 shots for Greenville and 13 for Indy. The same action/result would transpire for the 2nd, as well, with Greenville putting up only nine shots and Indy putting up 15. Indy would fire plenty of shots on Rabbit’s goalie David Hrenak, but all those would be denied. Things turned around for the 3rd period, as a sense of urgency to get on the board resonated with the Rabbits. Once the puck was dropped, the Rabbits would hold possession and rush down to the Fuels zone with less than a minute of a PP left to serve at their advantage. Alex Ierullo would make a pass to Max Martin in the neutral zone, and Martin would rush past the Fuels players and snap the puck above goaltender Driscoll, making it a 1-0 game in the 3rd period.
Finally, after 40 minutes of action, a team would score. But that wasn’t it for the Rabbits! They would score again at 2:58 by Alex Ierullo wristing the puck in from a pass by Eberle.
Indy would feel agitated by those two goals; trailing by two goals wasn’t a way to play for them, so they attempted to make plays in the Rabbit’s zone, firing plenty of shots on Hrenak. But, the Rabbit’s defense and Hrenak would be on par, denying the Fuels chance at scoring even on their PP when Eberle was put in the Sin Bin for Interference. At the end of the game, Greenville would put up 12 shots on goal in the 3rd, 32 in total, and Indy would put out only eight in the 3rd with 36 in total. The Rabbits would win in a game that was tied after 40 minutes. And what’s better than a win? A shutout win, perhaps? Yes, David Hrenak would get his first shutout as a Rabbit; that wasn’t the end of the road for the Swamp Rabbits as they had two more games coming up in Toledo, and perhaps that was a little frightening, as Toledo would be 3rd in the league and 3rd in the west. The Walleye are also the first team to clinch the Kelly Cup Playoffs and recently had an 18-game winning streak and 20-game point streak snapped.
Entering the first game against Toledo, the Rabbits would be in 3rd place, tied at 2nd with Jacksonville, with the Stingrays finding a way to stand in 1st place and 2nd in the east. The Rabbits, after the game against Indy, would be at 78 points and 35-19-7. These numbers speak for themselves, the Rabbits weren’t backing down from a fight in Toledo, but the fight would be tough. The Walleye are the 3rd best team in the league and had an 18-game winning streak that is now the second longest win streak in the history of the ECHL.
For the first game in Toledo on Saturday, March 25, the first period would start strong for the Walleye, putting up 12 shots on Ryan Bednard’s goal and putting up one goal by Defenseman Jake Willets on the PP.
The first period would end with Toledo up 1-0 , with three penalties called on the Rabbits, one of them which led to a Walleye goal. At 4:35, Tanner Eberle tripped a Walleye player near the wall. Once referee Logan Gruhl whistled the play down, a scrum transpired with Rabbits defenseman Evan Wardley roughing up a Walleye player. The whole dynamic was to be expected, as the Walleye are a highly competitive team that won’t back down from a fight. Let’s not forget to mention Sebastian Cossa’s incredible goaltending performance. The 6’6 Hamilton, Ontario native has had quite a season with the Walleye, winning 24 of his 38 games.
In the 2nd period, Greenville upped the defense and forechecking; they would show off an impressive performance to try and score and keep the Walleye from scoring. However, at 8:37 into the period, forward Gordie Green made a pass to Hawkins in the Rabbit’s zone, and Hawkins slapped the puck in. The powerful shot would go right past Bednard, and the Walleye would be 2-0 in the 2nd.
What would seem like an urgent need to score, the Rabbits would press on, firing 13 shots on goal in the period, with most of them being late in the 3rd. But most of those shots would be blocked and saved by Cossa—except for one. At 16:53, Ben Freeman passed the puck to Eberle from the right-wing corner, and Eberle dumped it right in the crease of Cossa’s net to find the rebound and slide it past him.
Finally, the Rabbits would be on the board. However, the Walleye would retaliate and score again just a few seconds after Eberle’s goal. After the 2nd, the Rabbits would trail by two goals, 3-1.
Many chances came from the Rabbits, but Cossa would be on fire by stopping most of those shots. If Cossa were not in net, perhaps the score would look different.
Regardless, what needed to be done was clear for the Rabbits; the final 20 minutes were approaching, and they needed to up the physicality and shoot as much as possible. The 3rd period is when Greenville up the game, putting up 16 shots on goal, with plenty of chances to score. However, nothing would go through, and the Rabbits wouldn’t score in the 3rd. Meanwhile, the Walleye would take a bit to score but would get on the board at 11:38 in the 3rd from a goal by Cox on a power play.
Greenville would trail by three goals with less than 10 minutes to work with; something needed to be done. Head Coach Andrew Lord for the Rabbits would pull Bednard to get the sixth attacker advantage, leaving the net empty for any Walleye to score. The Rabbits would use this extra player to their advantage, putting up plenty of shots on Cossa, but Cossa would go crazy with incredible save after save.
After so much intensity in the Walleye zone, Toledo would gain possession of the puck and fire it into the empty net in Greenville’s zone at 18:34. It was pretty horrendous for the Rabbits, playing their second game of the three on the road; so much effort being displayed with no positive outcome. Finally, at the end of the 3rd, the Walleye would get their first win from losing the win streak from the night before against the Reading Royals with a big final score of 5-1.
The loss was significant; however, there was still one more game left against the Walleye for the Rabbits to play.
Starting off for the 1st period of the last game in Toledo, the Walleye and Greenville would put up a lot of physicality and shots on goal. Although there would be a few chances for the Rabbits to score, the Walleye would be the first to get on the board. Hensick would pass the puck to Lowney at the left wing end near Hrenak; Lowney would immediately pass to Craggs at center ice, and Craggs would fire a wrister into the half-empty net of Hrenak to score first. Hrenak was under pressure from those three passes in the Rabbit’s zone, with Greenville’s defense being nearly absent from neutralizing that.
This wouldn’t be the only goal by Toledo in the first period. At 9:25, Cox would score his fifth of the season, and at 16:25, Green would net his 24th. It’s worth mentioning that those two goals were during the PP.
Speaking of PPs, in the 1st period, there were seven penalties, three of which were on the Rabbits, and three power plays for them. At the end of the 1st, Greenville would put up more shots on goal of 12 compared to 10 for Toledo; so much effort being displayed yet again with no positive results. Though, there were still 40 minutes of hockey left to play.
In the 2nd, Toledo’s game changed significantly: they did not score in that period, despite getting two power plays to work with. Greenville’s defense stepped up after letting in three goals in the 1st, stopping all eight shots on goal. Something was different about Toledo’s energy and play style in this period; this was their 3rd back-to-back game, but so was Greenville’s. 14:18 into the 2nd, however, the Rabbits would score from a goal by Ben Freeman, who would skip the puck past Cossas pads in the crease. Greenville would finally be on the board but still trail by two with less than six minutes to work with.
Toward the end of the 2nd period, with less than a minute left, the Rabbits would be right in the Walleyes zone. Brannon McManus passed the puck to Martin near the neutral zone blue line, and Martin would get hard wrist the puck at the net. Justin Nachbaur was right in the crease next to Cossa upon the puck getting shot by Martin and got the tip to send the puck past Cossa.
At the end of the 2nd period, the Rabbits would be down 3-2. Capping off the 2nd, Greenville would have 17 shots on goal. If Cossa weren’t in the net, however, the score would likely be different than 3-2.
The energy Greenville gained from scoring that last-minute goal by Nachbaur would carry onto the 3rd period. Upon the first two minutes of play, at 2:02, Kemp fired the puck with a wrist shot to Cossa at the right-wing side of Toledo’s zone. As Cossa made the pad save, the puck was loose, and Nachbaur slid it past him, and so early on, the Rabbits were tied!
The change in energy shifted, and it was in the Rabbit’s favor, with the urgency to win to gain 1st place in the South Divison. If the Rabbits were to get 1st place in the South Division, they would have to win in any fashion, not lose. Moving past the tying goal, Toledo wouldn’t be able to score before Greeneville did again to gain their lead. 13:33 in the period, the Rabbits would rush down to the Walleyes zone. Brett Kemp would hard pass the puck to Max Martin in the end of the zone, and Martin would shoot a beauty of a snapper that got past Cossa.
The Rabbits saw their first lead against the Walleye 4-3, but there was still more hockey to play. Almost a minute after Martin’s goal, Alex Ierullo would crosscheck a Walleye player into the wall to get the puck, but that check would be deemed an illegal crosscheck by referee Tyler Hascall the Walleye would get their first PP of the 3rd. Toledo would use this power play to return the score to a tie. And so it would work very quickly. The Walleye would score and tie it up in the first 9 seconds of the power play.
Despite the tied score yet again, there was time for Greenville to render a tiebreaker and take this game with a victory and thereof being 1st in the South.
But, the score would remain at a tie at the end of the 3rd, bringing upon three on three overtime. Capping off the 3rd period, Greenville would fire 12 shots on goal, with Toledo only shooting three. Despite the shots on goal differential, the score was tied, and overtime was coming. In overtime, it was on Greenville to score; they put up plenty of chances on Cossa with three shots on goal. With Toledo, the attitude changed; they also put up three shots on Hrenak’s goal. Hrenak made some incredible saves and looked very sharp. Although both teams displayed extreme effort, no one could seal the game with a win so that it would carry out a shootout.
Greenville would be the first to start the shootout, as Brett Kemp was the first shooter. Kemp motored down to Cossa and fired a shot, but it was blocked. Next was Toledo’s turn, so they called up lead goal scorer Brandon Hawkins. Hawkins would fire a simple snapper on Hrenak, but Hrenak would make the save. The first round would conclude scoreless. In the second round for Greenville, Carter Souch would get the nod from Coach Lord. Souch is excellent on the shootout, with all his attempts netting one in, regardless of who the goalie is. And just like his last shootouts, he would score. But it was Toledo’s turn, and Ryan Cox would get the nod. Cox wouldn’t score, however. He was leaving the score 1-0 after the 2nd round. Now it was the 3rd round, Greenville would have to score to take the dub, or Toledo would have to get denied by Hrenak. Alex Ierullo would get the nod and get his chance in the shootout. However, he did not score. Toledo’s Gordie Green would get his chance to score and keep the shootout going. A sense of urgency rushed through Toledos and Greenville’s bench. If Green didn’t score, Greenville would take it and be first in the south division. Green would casually and deliberately go down to the zone, slowing down upon reaching Hrenak; he would lay a snapshot on Hrenak, but Hrenak would made the save.
After so much effort and determination, the Rabbits won in a shootout against Toledo and, as a result, were now first in the South.
After this three-game road trip up north, the Swamp Rabbits will return to Bon Secours Wellness Arena this weekend for Friday, March 31, and April 1, and also head to Savannah the following Sunday; they’ll have another three-game stand on a weekend once again. Only a few games remain for the Rabbits in the regular season, and it has become clear that they will clinch the playoffs very soon.