WHEELING, W.Va. - The Toledo Storm looked and played like a team on tired legs during a 3-1 loss to the Wheeling Nailers last night at WesBanco Arena.
Playing for the fourth time in five nights, Toledo saw a three-game winning streak come to an end and missed an opportunity to gain some ground on a couple of teams directly ahead of them in the National Conference's North Division.
The Storm entered the game just three points behind the Nailers and Reading Royals, who were tied for third place in the standings. After the game, Wheeling found itself alone in third with a 19-12-2 record and 40 points as Reading lost 4-1 on the road to the Johnstown Chiefs.
"We could have gotten right in behind both those teams with a win,'' Storm coach Nick Vitucci. "We've have some success against Wheeling recently but they played pretty well tonight and got some good goaltending.''
The Storm had won the previous two games against the Nailers, winning both by one goal. Last night, the Storm had a tough time getting anything past Wheeling goaltender Andy Chiodo, who was making his first start at home since being returned to the Nailers from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins of the American Hockey League.
Toledo (16-13-3) got its only goal thanks to a fortuitous bounce of the puck off Chiodo's pads late in the first period.
The Nailers had taken an early 1-0 lead thanks to a James Laux power-play goal from just inside the Toledo blue line only 6:47 into the game. But the Storm's Rick Judson, stationed in the left circle, got control of a long rebound off a shot by teammate Scooter Smith and wristed the puck past Chiodo. It was Judson's seventh goal of the season.
Wheeling got a wrap-around goal from Ed McGrane, who had just enough room to slip the puck past Toledo's Scott Fankhouser at 11:40 of the second period. In the third period, the Nailers picked up an insurance tally when Nailer captain Steve Crampton netted a back-hander at 2:28.
Fighting the effects of a heavy cold, Vitucci admitted the game was one his team desperately wanted to win but just didn't get it.
"We had won three in a row going to back to Wednesday night when we started this long weekend," Vitucci said. "So, the best way to look at it is that we picked up six out of eight points. We want to try and bring that into this week instead of having any lingering disappointment about what happened tonight."
Wheeling coach Pat Bingham, while pleased with the victory, continues to search for more mental toughness from the 2004 Eastern Conference regular season champions.
"We played well enough to win tonight,'' Bingham said. "I thought the effort, desire and willingness were there. Those were positives. But we still aren't mentally as tough as we need to be. It seems like to have to take one step backwards to move two steps forward."
The Storm is off until Friday night. Toledo plays the second game of four straight on the road that evening when it visits the Dayton Bombers (11-19-2).
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