ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge
Some may call them dreamers.
Then again, after watching the Toledo Storm for most of last night's hockey game against Johnstown, they may have been on to something.
A group of Storm fans sitting near the Toledo bench displayed a sign which read, “We Still Believe.”
Believe this: with better goaltending, Toledo could easily be just six points out of a playoff position instead of eight with seven games left in its East Coast Hockey League regular season.
The Storm outshot and outplayed the visiting Chiefs.
The only place Toledo didn't come out ahead was on the scoreboard, losing 5-2.
The result can be summed up in one word: goaltending. Johnstown got it from Freddie Deschenes while Steve Briere struggled for the Storm.
“First period, we should have been up 2, 3, 4-0,” Toledo coach Dennis Holland said. “I think goaltending was the difference.”
As it was, Toledo trailed 2-1 after 20 minutes despite out-shooting Johnstown 10-1 in the first eight minutes and 21-11 overall in the opening period.
Those first 10 shots included seven quality chances. Deschenes stopped them all.
“Freddie kept us in it in the first period,” Chiefs coach Scott Allen said. “We just wanted to weather the storm. Let's face it, they're a desperate hockey team.”
Johnstown's first goal came from Philippe Roy at 10:40 on a weak snap shot from the point that sailed through traffic and beat Briere. The second, which broke a 1-1 tie, came when Chad Wilchynski turned the puck over in his own end.
Chiefs forward Chad Onufrechuk blasted the giveaway underneath Briere's left arm from between the circles. The goal came with just 46 seconds left in the period.
The third goal wasn't a thing of beauty, either. David Gove came down the right side and fired another stoppable shot through Briere, who is playing every game because of a groin injury to Joey MacDonald.
“I'd really like to have Nos. 2 and 3 back,” Briere said. “It's kind of funny how everything is glorified when it comes close to playoff time. You really need to step up.
“You let in goals like that and it's three times as glorified as if you let in a goal at Christmas time.”
Toledo's now going to need gifts from Santa Claus to qualify for the Kelly Cup playoffs. Fourth-place Wheeling has 69 points and fifth-place Cincinnati has 66. The sixth-place Storm totals 61.
Toledo has seven games left. Three are on the road, including tomorrow in Dayton and Saturday in Wheeling.
There's still time to believe, but the window of opportunity is closing quickly. The door on the soft goals needs to be closed, too, if Toledo is to have any chance at all.
NOTES: The final shots on goal were 38-28 in favor of Toledo. ... Detroit Red Wings contract defense- man John Wikstrom made his first appearance in the Storm lineup since he broke his left arm Jan. 18 against Peoria. ... Defenseman Grady Moore, who spent this season and the previous three at Bowling Green State University, had his immigration problems cleared up. He played for Toledo, finishing with a plus/minus of +1. ... Storm general manager Mike Miller said he talked to his counterpart with Saint John of the American Hockey League in regards to Toledo forward Jeff Mitchell who went back up to the Flames last week. Miller was told it was unlikely that Mitchell, who is under contract to Saint John and was acquired last month in a trade for Andrew Williamson, would be back in Toledo this season.