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Published: Tuesday, 5/16/2006

Storm determined not to end season

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The sheer frustration and overpowering disappointment in the Storm's locker room Sunday night, after squandering a two-goal lead late in a Kelly Cup playoff game, was matched with a quiet determination.

"This is far from over," said Storm forward Matt Zultek, who opened the scoring on Sunday only to see his team lose the lead, the game and fall behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven American Conference series to the Gwinnett Gladiators.

"You still need to win four games to win the series," he said. "We have to win here and win the next and then the next. It's not like we haven't done it before."

The puck is set to drop at 7:05 tonight at the Sports Arena for a potential season-ending contest for the Storm, which won both the North Division regular season and playoff titles.

Toledo finds itself on the verge of elimination despite jumping out to leads in all four games of the series. The Storm has led by two goals with less than 21 minutes left in three of the games and lost 4-2 on Sunday after carrying a 2-0 lead into the final period.

Toledo has been outscored 9-0 and outshot 43-27 by Gwinnett in third periods in the series, which would shift back to Duluth, Ga., for Games 6 and 7 if Toledo keeps it alive.

"We are more than capable of beating this team," said defenseman Mike Knight, who scored his first goal of the playoffs on Sunday. "We've had the lead going into the third period and had two-goal leads. We just need to play 60 minutes and not get away from our game plan."

The Gladiators scored on a turnover, a penalty shot and the power play in the third period to hand goalie Drew MacIntyre his first loss of the postseason.

"It's not the end of the world," MacIntyre said. "We still have lots of time. We just have to focus on winning the next game."

But it is uncertain whether MacIntyre, who was in Grand Rapids serving as the Griffins' back up last night, will start tonight. He was spectacular in another surprise return to his team with 32 saves on Sunday, but lost for the first time in 14 games. Logan Koopmans, who is 2-4 with a 4.05 goals-against average and an .892 save percentage, may get the nod.

Gwinnett coach Jeff Pyle said he was impressed with

MacIntyre, who finished with 10 fantastic saves.

"There were two [chances] in the first period where we had point-blank shots and he made phenomenal saves," Pyle said. "But we wanted their best. We knew he was their ace in the hole. We need to play our game no matter who's in goal and we thought we could beat him."

Pyle's confidence in his quick and explosive team is merited. Gwinnett is 5-0 on the road in the playoffs and has outscored opponents 24-13.

Toledo finished the regular season with a 27-6-3 record at the Sports Arena, but has lost two straight to Gwinnett and is 4-3 at home in the playoffs.

Toledo gave up an average of just 2.63 goals per game in the regular season and had the fourth-best defense in the league. But Gwinnett has scored 16 goals in four games against the Storm.

The Storm scored 3.39 goals per game during the regular season, but has averaged 2.75 in the conference finals. Toledo allowed only 28.56 shots per game, which was fourth best in the league, but has given up an average of 32.92 in the postseason.

"I'm frustrated we're not playing our best hockey," said Storm coach Nick Vitucci. "But I have confidence in this group of guys."

FIGHT NIGHT: The scene at the Sports Arena turned ugly with less than 10 seconds left in Sunday night's game.

Gwinnett enforcer Lane Mason, who is 6-foot-9 and 265 pounds, mocked the home crowd after getting the best of the Storm's Robert Snowball in a fight. Mason spun around with his arms in the air prompting the crowd to litter the ice with popcorn, bottles and cups of beer.

"I just kept hearing and hearing that if I fought someone, I was going to get beat up by Snowball or [Adam] Keefe," Mason said. "I just wanted to show them I have some game too. But we have bigger things to do here than worry about fist fights."

Snowball came within inches of tying the game right after Gwinnett had taken its first lead. He was alone in front of goalie Sean Fields and had a golden opportunity to tie it with 8:30 left, but his shot hit the cross bar.

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6110.



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