It would take a complete collapse for Toledo to miss the ECHL playoffs, but the reeling Storm has played the part recently giving up 18 goals in its last three games.
Toledo looked listless at times, struggled on special teams and fell 6-3 to Trenton last night at the Sports Arena. The Titans scored four power play goals and Scott Bertoli, Trenton's leading scorer, tallied a hat trick.
Trenton opened up a 5-1 lead early in the second period, before Toledo countered with two. The Titans then put it away with a goal early in the final period.
Storm goalie Ervins Mustukovs consistently gave up long rebounds, and it cost him on three goals. The rookie had little support as he yielded five goals before he was pulled 5:23 into the second period.
Toledo, which could have clinched a playoff berth last night, has won just twice in its last eight games. The Storm has given up six goals in each of its last three games.
Bruce Mulherin scored twice and Gerry Burke scored the other goal for the Storm (35-30-3), which is now tied with Trenton for third place.
"It's not like we weren't doing what we planned to do. They just capitalized on their chances," Mulherin said. "The puck was bouncing their way in the first and then we came back in the second. But it wasn't enough to overcome those first period goals."
Toledo came into the game with the sixth-best penalty kill unit in the ECHL, while Trenton was ranked sixth on the power play. But the Titans clearly won the special teams battle, converting
4 of 8 chances with the man advantage. Toledo finished 1 of 8.
"I'm very disappointed," Storm coach Nick Vitucci said. "It was our penalty kill and special teams that were the big thing. I bet we turned the puck over 50 times [in the neutral zone]. That's the frustrating part. We continue to make the same mistakes."
While mathematically Toledo could finish sixth or seventh in the North Division and miss the playoffs that would require losses in each of its last four games. Johnstown and Wheeling also would essentially have to win their final four games.
Toledo will host the Nailers this afternoon at 3.
"We've known all along that mathematically we could finish first or finish not in the playoffs," Mulherin said. "We have to play like it's elimination every game or the season is going to be over."
Trenton scored two early power play goals before Mulherin answered in the first period. Bertoli, who has seven assists and eight goals in 10 games against Toledo, scored on a one-timer. Trenton's Jim Henkel scored on a rebound before Mulherin's backhander made it 2-1 with 2:44 left in the first.
Bertoli and Henkel then scored power play goals in a span of 1:13 - both on rebounds. Bertoli then completed the hat trick just 1:34 later for a 5-1 lead. Mustukovs gave up five goals on 23 shots.
"I'm sure he'd like to have one or two of those rebounds back, but there wasn't much support," Vitucci said. "I didn't get him out of there because he was playing bad, I got him out of there because I felt sorry for him."
It was the second straight night that Vitucci had to pull a goaltender. He yanked Koopmans on Friday night after the Storm trailed 6-1 after two periods
"That is not what you want in game 67 and 68," he said.
Burke and Mulherin scored goals 29 seconds apart to make it 5-3. But Trenton's Benoit Mondou scored 2:41 into the third period to regain the three goal cushion.
"That deflated us there," Vitucci said.
He said he plans to show highlights of the unforced errors to his team before today's game.
"We were trying to make fancy passing plays and as a result we turned it over and we hook someone and we're in the box. And there's four power play goals," Vitucci said.
NOTES: Koopmans finished with 18 saves in relief. Coming into the game the Storm had given up 12 goals in its last two games. It yielded six to Wheeling and six to Johnstown. Toledo could not capitalize on a two man advantage that lasted 1:27, spanning the end of the first and start of the second. Newly acquired defenseman Brett Angel stepped in to defend forward Chris Blight in the first period. The 6-6, 230 pounder grabbed Jake Ortmeyer (6-3, 210) after he punched Blight going into the boards.
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