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Published: 2/27/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Walleye fizzle

K-Wings put stop to Toledo rally

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Mike Hedden, left, is smashed into the boards while battling for the puck with Kalamazoo's Mitch Versteeg. After the Walleye fell behind 4-1, they eventually tied it when Hedden scored in the second. Mike Hedden, left, is smashed into the boards while battling for the puck with Kalamazoo's Mitch Versteeg. After the Walleye fell behind 4-1, they eventually tied it when Hedden scored in the second.
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A goaltending change between periods sparked a quick three-goal outburst by the Toledo Walleye, but their comeback bid ultimately fizzled Sunday afternoon.

The Walleye's Jeremy Tucker tries to get to the puck and blast it past Kalamazoo goalie Riley Gill. The Walleye's Jeremy Tucker tries to get to the puck and blast it past Kalamazoo goalie Riley Gill.
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Trailing 4-1, the Walleye put together a productive second period to tie Kalamazoo at 4 heading into the third period. But the K-Wings tallied the game-winner midway through the final stanza to skate away with a 5-4 win before 4,616 at the Huntington Center.

The Walleye tied the game at 1 with 11:37 left in the first period. But the K-Wings then scored three goals over the next 9:41 to seize a 4-1 advantage. The deluge of goals prompted coach Nick Vitucci to replace starting netminder Joe Palmer, who made just six saves on 10 shots, with Thomas McCollum to start the second.

The Walleye responded by scoring two goals over the first 7:37 to make it 4-3 and then tied it at 4 with 6.5 seconds left in the second period.

"Sometimes just a new goalie in net changes things up a little bit," Vitucci said. "We just told them to believe and regroup. That's what we were looking for. You can't question the effort."

But the rally fell short when Andrew Fournier scored on a slap shot with 10:53 left.

"The guys were dragging at that point," Vitucci said. "But we still created things after that and we didn't give up."

Kalamazoo (30-20-6) won its third straight and leads the North Division. Toledo (25-26-4) dropped its third in a row and sits in last.

The Walleye also failed to gain ground in the chase for a playoff bid. They are now 10th out of 11 teams in the Eastern Conference with 54 points and are three points behind Elmira and Gwinnett for the eighth and final spot.

Toledo trailed 4-1 when former NHL forward Mike Wilson, who was signed on Saturday, cut the lead in half when he beat Riley Gill (32 saves) through his legs. Wilson, who played in 336 NHL games, scored 3:43 into the second.

"Scoring's fun," said Wilson, whose last pro goal came two years ago while playing for Trenton. "If you can't get excited to play pro hockey, there's something wrong with you. I'm far from game shape. But I felt pretty good. Once I get going, I'm up to speed."

Toledo rookie Nick Duff scored his first goal as a professional to pull the Walleye within one. Duff scored a little more than two minutes after Wilson's goal to make it 4-3 with 12:23 left in the second.

"It feels great," Duff said. "I don't score many goals. The time I scored was big too to help us come back. We had a great rally in the second."

Mike Hedden then tied it with a power-play goal in the last seconds of the middle period. Hedden tallied his team-high 22nd of the season when he lifted in a rebound.

Toledo cashed in on an early power play as Christopher DiDomenico scored with two seconds left on the man advantage to tie it at 1 with 11:37 left in the first. But Kalamazoo scored four goals on its first 10 shots.

"You have to make the change [in goal]," Vitucci said. "They weren't garbage goals, but you want him to make some of those big saves to allow you to stay in the game."

Overall, Toledo outshot Kalamazoo 36-25 and was 2 of 2 on the power play. McCollum stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced.

"I thought our work ethic was there," Duff said. "We kept our heads in it. Unfortunately we couldn't pull through in the third."

Wilson, who played seven seasons in the NHL with Buffalo, Florida, Pittsburgh, and the New York Rangers, works with Walleye assistant coach Dan Watson at the Ohio Hockey Academy in Cleveland. Watson called Wilson, who last played in the NHL in 2003, Friday night.

"Dan does a ton for me," Wilson said. "Anytime he needs something for me I'll do my best to help out. I'm on the ice four hours a day teaching, so my legs are in shape."

Toledo plays three straight games at the end of the week. The Walleye host Reading on Thursday and Kalamazoo on Friday. They then play at Cincinnati on Saturday. Eight of the team's final 16 games are against division foes.

"I was proud of the way we worked," Vitucci said. "Even in the first period we had great opportunities. But they scored in bunches to put us behind the eight ball."

FISH TALES: The game-winner looked as if it deflected off the skate of a Walleye defenseman. …Toledo had two players on its roster, Jeremy Tucker and John May, who played against the Walleye in last Wednesday's game. Both were on the Nailers' roster. …The Walleye hit the post four times in the game. … Kalamazoo leads the North with 66 points and has won nine of 11. … Kalamazoo scored on two of its first five shots. …Hedden and Evan Rankin both just missed closing the gap late in the first. Hedden hit the post, and Rankin fired the rebound high. …Wilson said his daughter, who is now 8, doesn't remember him playing in the NHL. "My family was at the game, and she was excited to get to see me play," he said.

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com or 419-724-6354.



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