Friday night’s ECHL playoff opener between Toledo and Cincinnati was 85 minutes of what it’s all about — aggressive and fast skating, crisp passing, hard but honest checking, limited penalties, and scintillating goalkeeping. They played two overtimes and the intensity never let up and the home team proved there’s a distinct difference between not winning and losing.
The first period of Saturday’s Game 2 was a continuation of the same and the crowd at the Huntington Center was fully engaged and fully appreciative. The Walleye threw everything but the kitchen sink at Cincinnati’s goal, got no breaks, and skated off scoreless and tied. But man, it was good stuff.
Then it turned into about the worst stuff you’d ever want to see.
The Cyclones led 5-0 and eventually won 5-2 and don’t be surprised if this proves to have been the last hockey game in town this season.
Cincinnati leads the best-of-seven series, 2-0, and will host the next two or three games.
Yes, the Walleye spit the bit on a golden opportunity.
Cincy was the ECHL North Division champion and was higher seeded in the playoffs, but Toledo got the first two games in its arena because the Cyclones’ building was otherwise engaged.
The Walleye failed to take advantage, although Toledo coach Nick Vitucci tried to shrug off that aspect of the series afterwards.
“We didn’t look at it as home-ice advantage because we’ve played as well on the road as we have at home,” he said. “And we’ve played well in Cincinnati’s building. I didn’t think it was going to be a momentum swing either way.”
Still, he could not be enamored of dropping two in as many nights on home ice, and he certainly could not be enamored of how his team performed.
After all the good that came before it, the second period was an empty offensive performance by the Walleye and the third period deteriorated into chippy, edgy play and a series of chants at a referee who wasn’t as much to blame as the way the Walleye reacted to a couple of his calls.
“We lost because we didn’t handle our emotions very well,” Vitucci said.
The Cyclones scored 90 seconds into the second period, and the Walleye went into a funk until about the 10-minute mark. After a 10-6 edge in shots during the first period, Toledo was outworked, outskated, and outshot 18-5 in the middle stanza.
It was what happened at the end of the period, though, that rubbed the Walleye and the 4,191 in attendance the wrong way. Toledo’s Aaron Bogosian, whose team was a man down at the time after a careless penalty, was trying to control the puck behind the Cincinnati net when a Cyclone player appeared to rip his stick from his grasp.
No penalty was called. Bogosian had no way to steer the puck and it was stolen and Cincinnati broke out in a 3-on-2 rush. The puck was dropped to Taylor Ellington, trailing on the play, and he had a convoy to provide a screen and plenty of time to pick his spot against Toledo goalie Kent Simpson.
That made it 2-0 with 14 seconds left in the period. Before the teams left the ice Walleye forward Kyle Rogers was tagged with a roughing call that Vitucci felt was unfair and the bad ending obviously festered in the Walleye locker room during the break.
“It was frustrating,” Vitucci said. “We didn’t play our best in the second period but we’re still right in the game. Then all that happened.”
A dozen penalties were called in the third period, but the most unfortunate thing was the way Toledo broke down defensively in front of Simpson, who didn’t deserve to fall behind 5-0, at which point Vitucci mercifully got him off the ice.
Eventually, everybody got off the ice. Vitucci said there isn’t a player on his roster that isn’t confident about winning on the road. We’ll see.
It will take the Walleye team that showed up for the first 105 minutes of the series, not the one that mucked up the ice thereafter.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.
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