Playing their third game in three nights in three cities, the Toledo Walleye began the third period with a precarious one-goal lead.
When fatigue looked to play its biggest role yet, the Walleye clinched the game in a matters of minutes instead. Toledo scored two goals in 2:01 to begin the third period and protected their lead in a 4-1 victory against Worcester on Friday at the Huntington Center.
Zach Nastasiuk had a goal and an assist for the Toledo Walleye in Friday's 4-1 win over Worcester at the Huntington Center.
Detroit Red Wings prospect Villi Saarijarvi scored twice, Matej Machovsky made 33 saves, and forward Zach Nastasiuk had a goal and an assist for the Walleye.
“As much as the game is physical, these guys are pro athletes who take great care of their bodies, but the mental side of the game can really creep in and take over,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “I thought we did that in the first two periods – we weren’t as sharp, we weren’t crisp. In the third period, it was focused energy when we needed it to be.”
The Walleye, who played before a sellout crowd Friday, are 6-0-0 at home this season.
Toledo was badly outshot all night, and finished at a 34-20 disadvantage.
The Walleye won with special teams – Toledo picked up a power play goal early in the third and was 2-for-2 on the penalty kill – and Machovsky’s work in net. He saw 26 shots in the first two periods alone and saved 25 to keep the Walleye in the game.
“Macho was great in the net,” Saarijarvi said. “He really helped us a few times, made a few big saves that really kept us alive. It was a great team win, for sure.”
VIDEO: Walleye vs. Railers
Worcester dominated the first period, though it was Toledo that scored first. The Walleye did not put their first shot on goal until 6 minutes and 40 seconds had passed, but their first one ended up in the back of Worcester’s net. Nastasiuk’s redirection of Luke Esposito’s pass beat Worcester goaltender Mitch Gillam for the game’s opening goal.
Despite being outshot 12-3 in the opening period, the Walleye took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Saarijarvi, the 20-year-old Finnish defenseman, extended the Walleye lead with a knuckling shot from the point near the middle of the second period.
Worcester finally broke through fewer than two minutes after Sarrijarvi’s goal. A scramble in front of the Toledo crease led to a pair of point-blank shots, and Railers forward Barry Almeida scored on the second to cut the Walleye lead to 2-1.
Toledo started the third period on the power play and made use of it. Nastasiuk fired a cross-ice pass to Kyle Bonis, who buried it 28 seconds into the period.
Saarijarvi scored again at the 2:01 mark to give Toledo – which was outshot 28-12 at one point – a 4-1 lead.
“Man, he can skate,” Watson said of Saarijarvi. “He makes plays, he’s energetic out there, and he provides that spark out there. You saw him get a couple goals and get rewarded for shooting the puck to the net, things we always talk about. I’m happy to see a guy like that have a night like this.”
Saarijarvi, who joined Toledo earlier in the week after being sent down from Grand Rapids, had his best game with the Walleye.
Saturday’s win broke a two-game losing streak, and with another road game coming on Sunday, both Saarijarvi and the Walleye created the result they were hoping for on their one-game stop at the Huntington Center.
“It’s always nice to score. They were playing very good hockey before I came down here, and the first two games, we lost both,” Saarijarvi said. “I thought it was a pretty big game for the team and for myself as well, and I think we did a great job to bounce back from those last two games and turn the page the right way.”
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