A dejected Nathan Lutz leaves the ice after the loss. Toledo hosts Wheeling today in the regular-season finale.
The Storm is no longer behind the wheel.
Last night at the Sports Arena, Toledo took a 2-0 lead into the third period against Cincinnati, only to watch the Cyclones score three unanswered goals in a span of less than three minutes midway through the final frame.
The 3-2 setback, combined with Peoria's 6-1 win at home over Dayton, moves the Rivermen into a tie with Toledo for first place overall in the East Coast Hockey League.
The loss snapped a franchise-record 14-game home winning streak.
Both teams now have 102 points but by virtue of having 48 victories to the Storm's 46, Peoria will earn the tie breaker for the Brabham Cup and home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs with a win at home today against Dayton.
The Storm closes out its regular season this afternoon in Wheeling.
In order to finish first, Toledo needs a win against the Nailers and a Peoria loss - regulation, shootout or overtime. It can also finish on top by taking Wheeling into overtime if last place Dayton beats Peoria in regulation.
“The bottom line now is, we're hoping for a miracle,” Toledo captain Jeff Mitchell said.
The other bottom line is that if a miracle doesn't happen, the Storm will meet Cincinnati in a Northwest Division best-of-five semifinal playoff series beginning Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Arena.
With its rally, the Cyclones are guaranteed to finish in third place in the division. In the first round of postseason play, No.1 meets No. 4 (Lexington), while No. 2 gets Cincinnati.
“It doesn't matter to me whether we play Cincinnati or Lexington,” Storm coach Claude Noel said. “We have a vision and a mission to accomplish and we've got to go through all the teams to get there.”
Toledo had a chance to tie the league mark for most home wins in a season (30), set last season by the Louisiana IceGators and appeared on its way to doing that when Jim Brown scored in the first period and Jeff Johnstone converted a power-play marker in the second.
The Storm was dominant in the middle frame, outshooting the visitors, 19-8. Goaltender Greg Hewitt was at his best, including two sterling stops on Matt Ellis.
Toledo didn't have a shot on goal in the final period until 7:37 remained. By then, the Cyclones had the lead.
With Mitchell in the penalty box because of a hooking penalty - one of two minors he took that period - Aaron Brand scored at 8:44. Thirty-five seconds later, Brand scored again and the game was tied at 2.
Joe Cardarelli recorded the game winner at 11:26 on a bang-bang play that began when a Cyclones player moved around Storm defenseman Timo Helbling.
“I'm not going to allow this game to define our season,” Noel said. “I just want to be able to look in the mirror in the morning with my team and say, `How did we do?' I think we'll look at it and say, `I think we gave it the best we can.' I'm not going to sit here and dice and analyze and over-analyze and say, `I wish, I wish.'
“There was a lot of good things we did in this game, but win. I think we took a step in the right direction other than the result wasn't there for us.”
What put Peoria in the drivers seat left Mitchell searching for answers.
“If I had a reason why, the outcome would have been different,” Mitchell said. “We battled hard. There's no quit in this team.
“I know a lot of guys are disappointed, but the only thing I can really say is maybe we let up for a little bit and it kicked us in the butt.
“We've had a great year and we're still going to make a run in the playoffs and it's going to be a run that won't be forgotten, that's for sure.”