WHEELING, W.Va. - The Toledo Storm lost its cool too often against the Wheeling Nailers Wednesday night and ended up losing home-ice advantage as well in a 5-3 setback.
The Storm finds itself in a 1-1 deadlock with the Nailers entering tonight's pivotal Game 3 - which begins at 7:35 - in the best-of-five North Division final series. Game 4 is slated to be played here tomorrow.
Wheeling has had twice as many power-play opportunities (20-10) in the first two games of the series. Toledo took 34 minutes worth of penalties in each of the first two contests, while the Nailers were whistled for 30 minutes in both games combined.
"Wheeling is an opportunistic team and we are giving them too many opportunities right now," Storm coach Nick Vitucci said. "We need to get away from some of the things that are frustrating us out there."
Toledo's veteran defensemen B.J. Adams and Jason Maleyko said the team captured the division regular-season title by playing smart hockey.
"I think we're doing things we weren't doing in the regular season," Malekyo said. "We're playing so undisciplined. We're taking so many penalties. We were walking away and now we're trying to take revenge. Killing penalties just killed us."
Adams said that although the team rallied in both games after trailing because it took bad penalties, it can longer rely on a third-period outburst.
"We hurt ourselves and put ourselves in bad positions," Adams said. "We just need to play whistle to whistle. We need to just skate away and wait for the next draw."
Vitucci asked Maleyko, his captain, to call a players-only meeting last night.
"They need to talk about how far this team can go if we can control our emotions and talk about what is on the line," Vitucci said.
Four of the Nailers' nine goals against the Storm have come with the man advantage. Maleyko said playing on the penalty kill hampers the team's ability to roll out its three talented forward lines.
"It's a best-of-three series now," Malekyo said. "This game is huge. If we win this one, we'll take momentum into the game the next afternoon."
Vitucci said his team is confident it can win at WesBanco Arena, where it went 3-3-0 this season. The team that wins tonight will have a huge advantage when the series resumes just a little more than 12 hours later at noon tomorrow.
"We've made this trek a little harder on us. But you can't expect to win every game and it may not hurt to get back to reality a little bit," Vitucci said. "We've overcome setbacks before and I'm upbeat about how our team will rebound. We have to have a strong game from start to finish. We can't take periods off and we'll have to keep our emotions in check."
KEARNS IS POW: Storm rookie Bracken Kearns was named ECHL player of the week for April 17-23.
The center scored his first professional hat trick and added an assist in Toledo's 5-3 win at Johnstown on April 19.
Kearns is tied for the lead among rookies in the Kelly Cup playoffs with two power-play goals and two game-winning goals. He also leads the Storm in the postseason with five goals and eight points in five games.
MAC STARTS FOR GRIFFINS: Drew MacIntyre, Toledo's No. 1 goalie for much of the season, got the start in net for Grand Rapids of the AHL last night.
MacIntyre got the nod after the Griffins' No. 1 goalie, Jimmy Howard, was called up to Detroit. Howard is backing up Red Wings starter Manny Legace because Chris Osgood suffered a leg injury yesterday.
MacIntyre, who led the Storm to a first-round sweep of Johnstown, made 33 saves and helped Grand Rapids defeat Toronto 3-2 last night.
The injury to Osgood did not affect the Storm's goaltending situation for this weekend's series as Logan Koopmans is expected to get both starts. But it could come into play if Toledo advances to the conference finals.
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