The warning signs came early.
If there was any doubt that the Toledo Storm would be ready for its East Coast Hockey League contest against the Charlotte Checkers last night at the Sports Arena, it was put to rest within moments of the opening faceoff.
The Storm fired 10 unanswered shots at the Charlotte cage in the first 10 minutes, outshot the visitors 19-4 in the opening period, and scored three times en route to a 5-2 victory.
By the time it ended, the Storm set a season-high mark of 48 shots on goal.
Charlotte had 24.
With the win, Toledo solidified its hold on the fourth and final home-ice playoff spot in the Northern Conference. Toledo has 78 points, fifth-place Roanoke - a 6-5 loser at Richmond - has 76 points, and sixth-place Charlotte remains at 72 points.
“It was a very big win,” Storm coach Dennis Holland said. “You can beat Wheeling, but you need to beat the guys that are in the playoffs.
“Charlotte is an excellent team.”
One that was bottled up in the neutral zone by Storm defensive play that, in turn, created a multitude of offensive opportunities.
“Defensively in the offensive zone, we haven't been good all year,” Storm forward James Patterson said. “Now we've got a high (forward with the defensemen) and every time they came out, they couldn't get anything generated.”
That wasn't a problem for Toledo. Patterson with his 40th, Derek Booth and Rob Thorpe all converted within a 2:01 span of the opening frame.
Patterson's goal - his first since Feb. 20 - was a one-time short-sider at the 10:54 mark.
Booth threw a shot at the net 35 seconds later. It went through a screen and past Checkers goalie Scott Bailey for a 2-0 count.
Thorpe's marker came at 12:55. The captain crashed the net, picked a rebound of a Jeff Johnstone shot off Bailey's pads and stuffed home a back-hander.
The 19 shots were one shy of Toledo's one-period season-best.
Johnstone, rested after missing a month with a sore groin, had two goals and an assist. The center also scored Saturday against Wheeling.
“My agility, I can go side-to-side and get away from players now,” Johnstone said. “But two games don't mean anything; we've gotta keep plugging.”
Toledo has to plug through seven more regular-season starts including a rematch with Charlotte tomorrow at the Arena beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Roanoke is at One Main Street on Saturday.
NOTES: Free-agent signee David Cameron from Saskatoon of the Western (junior) Hockey League is in Toledo and Storm general manager Pat Pylypuik said the center will play tomorrow. The GM also received verbal confirmation last evening that center J.J. Hunter from Prince Albert of the WHL will play for Toledo. Pylypuik said he'll likely arrive today ... Pylypuik and Holland head to Kitchener, Ont., tonight to scout the four teams in the Canadian college playoff round-robin playdown ... Healthy Storm center Shawn Maltby is scheduled to come off the seven-day disabled list tomorrow. “I'll be excited to see a rested Maltby,” Pylypuik said ... Thorpe's appearance yesterday was his 300th for Toledo.