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In the most important game in the Walleye's inaugural season thus far, Toledo erupted for a trio of goals in a span of 1:27 in the second period and went on to claim a pivotal 5-1 win over Wheeling Saturday night.
A desperate Nailers team was trying to tie a Toledo club playing with equal urgency for the eighth and final playoff spot. Wheeling (32-32-6) grabbed a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Walleye struck back with five unanswered goals.
Toledo (34-28-6) scored on three straight shots early in the second to the delight of a crowd of 8,200 at Lucas County Arena. Toledo sits one point behind
Reading for the seventh seed in the eight-team playoffs. The Walleye are three in front of Trenton and moved four points ahead of Wheeling.
Mike Hedden, Adam Keefe, Tony Romano, and Maxime Tanguay each had a goal and an assist. Sal Peralta had Toledo's first goal and Akim Aliu had two assists.
"It was an important win," coach Nick Vitucci said. "It was a nice team win. We can enjoy it this evening. But [today's] another must-win game for us."
The Walleye host Kalamazoo at 4 p.m. today in the last regular-season home game. Toledo plays the K-Wings, who moved into first place last night, in three of its last four games.
"Obviously it's a huge win," Hedden said. "We'll just come out ready [today] to do the same thing to a team that could be a first-round matchup. So we want to set the tone and get on a little streak before the playoffs."
The three lightning-quick goals started when Peralta tied the game at 1 early in the second. Then 1:14 later, Hedden put Toledo on top. Romano then scored 13 seconds after that for a 3-1 Walleye edge.
"We scored three goals there just on nice entries and getting pucks to the net and having people drive the net," Vitucci said.
Tanguay, the team's leading scorer, added an insurance goal with 11:33 left. Keefe made it a four-goal cushion with 7:25 remaining.
One night after blowing a late two-goal lead to last-place Johnstown, the Walleye hung on as goalie Alec Richards finished with 27 saves.
Jon D'Aversa scored just 13 seconds into a power play that trickled past Richards for a 1-0 Wheeling lead with 8:52 left in the first.
Chris Robertson looked like he had tied it with two minutes left in the first period on a rebound. But his shot hit off the bottom of the cross bar and didn't cross the goal line.
Toledo then outshot Wheeling 16-7 in the decisive middle period.
The Walleye tied it when Peralta tipped in a quick cross ice pass from Robertson 5:31 into the second period. Keefe and Scooter Smith created a rush that set up the game winner as Hedden tapped in a rebound.
"Every game here on out is a playoff game," Hedden said.
Before announcer Bobb Vergiels could read off the goal, Tanguay scored on a quick rush after the ensuing face off. His shot from the left slot sailed past Adam Berkhoel (25 saves) for a
3-1 lead with 13:02 left in the middle period.
In the first period, the Nailers had three power plays and Toledo killed off two of them.
"We got ourselves in penalty trouble in the first period," Vitucci said. "We didn't come out unscathed. But we weren't way behind the eight ball. We took it as a positive."
Richards was sharp in the second making key saves early in the period and then in the waning moments.
FISH TALES: Toledo had lost four of five meetings with the Nailers and had been outscored 23-16. It was just the second time Wheeling played in Toledo. The Nailers beat the Walleye 7-3 on Dec. 9. …Detroit Red Wings Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay will sign autographs between periods today. …With 2.7 seconds left in the first, Wheeling's Mitch Ganzak was called for a four-minute penalty for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct. Toledo got five shots on net with the lengthy man advantage and missed scoring on several rebounds. But Peralta scored just after the penalty expired. …The Idaho Steelheads have clinched the 2009-10 Brabham Cup, which is awarded annually to the ECHL team that finishes with the most points in the regular season. Idaho is guaranteed home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs. The conference quarterfinals begin April 5 and end April 12.
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