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Storm strong at home

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    Toledo center Matt Ellis battles Lexington's Mark Smith, left, and Jay Banach for control of the puck in the first period last night at the Sports Arena.

    <Morrison / Blade photo

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Wes Mason, left, and Tim Verbeek celebrate Verbeek's third-period goal that gave the Storm a 3-1 lead. It was Verbeek's third playoff goal.

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The Toledo Storm was nearly unbeatable at home in the regular season.

And now that the Kelly Cup playoffs have started, nothing has changed.

It's the same old Storm producing the same results.

Toledo swept its best-of-five Northwest Division semifinal playoff series in three games last night against Lexington with a 5-1 decision in Game 3 before a crowd of 2,974 at the Sports Arena.

“The reason we're so good at home is because we're relentless,” captain Jeff Mitchell said. “We don't accept losing. It's not an option.”

The Storm, 32-3-4 at home, now advances to the division finals where it will meet the winner of the Peoria-Cincinnati series in Game 1 Friday at home. The Cyclones lead the other series 2-1 after beating the Rivermen 1-0 in overtime last night.

Toledo, which outscored Lex- ington 17-2 in the three-game series, got even-strength goals from Jim Brown, Jeff Johnstone and Tim Verbeek. Erik Anderson scored short-handed with 2:49 remaining and Jeff Mitchell added an empty-netter with 55 seconds left.

All three games were played on Toledo's home ice because of a home-and-garden show at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The Storm was officially considered the visiting team last night.

“This is a difficult building to play in for any team because of the dimensions,” coach Claude Noel said. “It's 15 feet smaller than a normal rink and there's not much room to operate behind the nets. Not only does that make it tough on opposing teams, our fans do a good job of driving them nuts, too.”

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Toledo center Matt Ellis battles Lexington's Mark Smith, left, and Jay Banach for control of the puck in the first period last night at the Sports Arena.

Morrison / Blade photo Enlarge

The Storm got another solid effort from goaltender Doug Teskey, who made 37 saves last night and allowed just two goals on 110 shots in the series. Earlier in the day, Teskey was named ECHL goaltender of the month for March after going 8-2-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average.

“To see us get three goals in the last 10 minutes of the third period was a good feeling for me,” Teskey said. “It was 2-1 and they were putting a lot of pressure on us. But in the end, our guys came up big and made it look easier than it was.”

Toledo, which finished the regular season with the best record in the ECHL at 47-15-10 for 104 points and the Brabham Cup, avoided the first-round jinx that saw the champion bumped out of the playoffs in two of the previous three seasons.

Verbeek netted his third goal of the playoffs at 11:26 of the third period. He and teammate Matt Ellis broke in on a 2-on-1, Ellis shuffled the puck to Verbeek on the left side of the net and he one-timed it past Lexington goaltender Mike Smith. Anderson also netted his third at 17:11 by lifting a shot over Smith's glove side and Mitchell tallied his third at 19:05 of a penalty-filled game.

The Storm was whistled for 13 penalties totaling 26 minutes; Lexington 11 for 22. Lexington was 0-for-7 on the power play; Toledo 0-for-5.

“I am glad we have Doug Teskey on our side,” Noel said. “He's on top of his game right now, which is good to see.

“It wasn't an easy series, other than the first game. The last two games were difficult and nerve-racking.

“I didn't think we were really playing very well tonight when it was 2-1. It was nice to see us finally get it together in the third period. We just kind of exploded.”

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