With the puck sitting near the Kalamazoo goal line and less than 17 seconds remaining in the game, Toledo Walleye forward Christian Hilbrich mustered all the energy he could just to give the puck an extra push.
After a lengthy official review, Hilbrich did in fact do just enough to earn the goal to give the Walleye a wild 3-2 win Friday against Kalamazoo at the Huntington Center.
“The puck was coming up the wall, and we just had everybody go to the net,” Hilbrich said. “I was kind of on the back post. The puck bounced off the goalie, and [Tyler] Barnes had a whack at it. The puck was just sitting there right on the red line. I kind of just did whatever I had to do to shovel that thing over the red line. It was a great way to finish off the game where it was back and forth between two teams that have played each other a lot, and it feels good to get the win in that way especially.”
The Hilbrich goal capped off a frantic ending in the last 2 minutes, 30 seconds of the game that saw three goals and two separate lead changes.
Toledo’s Mike Borkowski lifted a shot from near the blue-line that fooled Kalamazoo goaltender Joel Martin and found the back of the net to give the Walleye a 2-1 lead at the 17:30 mark of the third. It seemed like that might have been the game-winner, but not on this night.
Hilbrich then committed a high-sticking penalty, leaving Kalamazoo on a power play with 2:03 left. With the goalie pulled, the Wings made the most of a 6-on-4 advantage as Josh Pitt scored with just 42 seconds remaining to tie the game at 2.
Now it looked as if the game was heading to overtime, but not on this night.
A mad scramble in front of the net resulted in Hilbrich’s goal and gave him some redemption after taking the late penalty.
“He got body position, and just with his size he was able to muscle the puck through,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said of Hilbrich’s goal. “It was just one of those things where it was the determination and the will. We talked about winning net front battles this weekend, and then we got one there.”
Kalamazoo had one final breakaway opportunity with the clock winding down, but was unable to add another goal to the wild flurry of scoring in the last few minutes.
“It was very emotional,” Watson said. “You go from scoring the big goal to make it 2-1, to taking a penalty and them pulling their goalie and scoring. Then you go right into is it a goal or is it not a goal. It is a roller coaster, and I give our guys a ton of credit for staying focused and staying level and even-keel on our bench. Right after they scored, it was right back to ‘Let’s go get one.’ And they did that. I give our players a ton of credit for being mentally tough.”
Kalamazoo scored first as Jimmy Mullin skated down the left side of the ice and crossed the face of the goal from the left side to beat Toledo goaltender Matej Machovsky for the Wings goal 11:07 into the first.
Toledo answered when Kyle Bonis fired a nifty turnaround shot that beat Martin for his 10th goal of the season, tying the score at 1 at the 16:26 mark of the first.
Neither team was able to score in the second.
The Walleye, which came into the game with the top power-play percentage in the ECHL, had two power plays in the second and came up empty on both.
Kalamazoo’s Brendan Bradley went to the penalty box for slashing, and Aaron Irving earned a penalty for cross-checking.
Toledo killed its first two power plays of the game, after Parker Reno went to the box for elbowing early in the third and Davis Vandane was called for a delay of game.
The third penalty of the final period was costly for the Walleye, as Pitt tied it at 2.
Toledo outshot Kalamazoo 37-29 and Machovsky did just enough to earn his fourth win of the season.
Toledo, which now has 41 points on the season, will have a quick turnaround for two road games against Wheeling on Saturday and Fort Wayne on Sunday.
“It was a hard fought battle tonight,” Watson said. “I think it puts our mind right and gets us in the right frame of mind to go into two really tough buildings this weekend in Wheeling and Fort Wayne. It sets the tone in terms of how hard we have to work. Guys see how much you have to dig in and how much you have to focus. You can’t take a shift off physically or mentally at this level. I’m real proud of the way the guys stayed focused for the last couple of shifts there.”
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