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A natural goal scorer made all the difference last night at the Sports Arena.
Jason Jaffray, who scored 37 times in 54 games last year for Wheeling, scored all three goals as the Nailers rallied to defeat the Toledo Storm 3-1.
The outcome allowed Wheeling to vault over the Storm and its 19 points, into a second place tie with Johnstown in the ECHL's North Division.
The Nailers and Chiefs have 20 points as now third-place Toledo (8-5-3) dropped its second straight contest.
"[Jaffray] was the difference," Storm coach Nick Vitucci said. "Right now, we're still having a hard time finding that guy to step up for us. We're getting opportunities and we're getting good looks. We just don't have that one guy to step up and get that big goal for us at this moment.
"It's something that we're working on and certainly looking for and know that it's something that's gotta be fixed here pretty soon."
Ironically, Jaffray has struggled to finish most of this season, recording just a pair of goals in his first 15 games.
"I was getting five, six shots on goal every game," Jaffray said. "It was just a matter of bearing down and getting the bounces. Tonight, even with the empty-net goal, the bounces went my way."
Jaffray's outburst came after Storm veteran Reggie Savage helped his club grab a 1-0 lead 2:49 after the opening faceoff.
Working the corner to the right of the Wheeling net, Savage came up with the puck before heading behind the Nailers' cage. With a deft move, the former NHL'er wrapped a pass to the slot after circling the goal. Shawn Collymore crashed the net and hammered home a one-timer.
Then Jaffray went to work.
His first came with 3:45 remaining in the first. Having just killed off a Storm power-play, the Nailers broke out in a two-on-one with Toledo defenseman Jason Maleyko caught up ice. Chris MacKenzie slid the puck to Jaffray and the left winger wristed a shot high over the outstretched left glove hand of Storm goalie Logan Koopmans.
Wheeling took the lead with the go-ahead goal in the second period. Again it was Jaffray. Again it was a shot high over Koopmans' glove hand.
The marker that made it 2-1 came when Jaffray picked up a lose puck in the neutral zone, took Storm defenseman P.J. Martin wide and converted from the right faceoff circle at 3:05.
"I played against Logan a little bit during the summer," Jaffray said. "I don't know if I found any tricks about him down in Cranbrook [British Columbia], but I think he got caught just a little too deep in his net on both goals."
Jaffray scored into an empty net at 19:38 - when Toledo pulled Koopmans but failed to put a sixth skater on the ice - to close the scoring.
"Goal scoring is a difficult skill to teach," Wheeling coach Pat Bingham said. "We just feel lucky that we've got a guy with the character that Jason has, as well as his ability to score goals."
NOTE: Toledo assistant coach Tony MacAulay was behind the bench at home for the first time since his wife, Tina, gave birth last week to a son, Kaleb.
Contact Dan Saevig at: email@example.com.