Toledo right winger Evan Rankin's hat trick propelled the Walleye to the top of the ECHL North Division last night.
Rankin scored a goal in each period. But it still took overtime to secure a win over Johnstown as Adam Hobson, who had four assists, notched the game winner with 3:42 left in the extra period.
Toledo knocked off Johnstown 5-4 in OT before an energetic crowd of 7,010 at Lucas County Arena. Rankin tallied the first hat trick in the Walleye's brief history.
"I must have been saying the right prayers today at Cedar Creek," Rankin said. "It feels good but it feels better to have the two points and to gain a couple steps in our conference. It's good to be on a winning streak and I hope we can keep it going."
Rankin, who scored 20 goals in a four-year career at Notre Dame, scored on all three shots he took.
The Walleye (23-13-4) won their sixth straight and took sole possession of first place over idle Cincinnati, who they beat 5-3 on Saturday night.
"It's a great place to be," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "To put together six points this weekend is huge for us. It hasn't come easy and won't be easy the rest of the
Johnstown tied it at 4 on Chanse Fitzpatrick's second goal with 7:50 left in regulation.
But Hobson, who had a career-high five points, went wide around a defenseman and got off a shot that hit the post and then beat goalie John Murray.
"I got an angle and I put it upstairs," Hobson said. "It was an unbelievable feeling."
Rankin took over the team lead in goals scored with 20. He corralled a loose puck and his go-ahead goal with 12:23 left prompted several fans to toss their hats on to the ice. An octopus and walleye also were thrown.
"The environment and crowd tonight made it feel real good," Rankin said.
Toledo goalie Alec Richards made 25 saves to earn his seventh straight win.
Johnstown took an early 1-0 lead but Toledo tied with 24 seconds left in the opening period. Hobson backhanded a pass across the top of the crease and Rankin scored while Toledo was on a 5-on-3 man advantage.
An odd man rush by three Chiefs led to Fitzpatrick's first and a 2-1 lead in the second.
Dominic Osman then knotted it at 2 when he batted a puck out of midair. Sebastien Piche's shot on the power play went wide, hit the boards, and bounced back over the net where Osman batted it by Murray.
Three minutes later, Rankin scored his second when Murray gave up a big rebound. Rankin one-timed it for a 3-2 lead.
"You get the puck to him in front of the net; he's going to bury it. It's fun playing with a guy like that," Hobson said of Rankin. "It feels so good to finish on a high going into the break."
The Chiefs tied it at 3 with 13:16 left when Richards sent a pass right to Dan Collins, who shot it back and scored.
Entering the three-day ECHL all-star break, the Walleye have won 14 of 17 games. There are just 24 games remaining in the regular season, including eight at home.
FISH TALES: The Walleye went 3 of 11 on the power play. …The Chiefs (10-21-8) have the fewest points in the ECHL and had lost six of seven. …The Walleye are back in action Friday and Saturday against Elmira at the LCA.
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