Toledo players celebrate a goal by Mike Hedden on the pink ice while playing the Kalamazoo K-Wings.
Toledo gave up two goals to the K-Wings over the final 2:16 and suffered a brutal 4-3 setback at the Huntington Center.
Walleye forward Mike Hedden scored two goals, including one that gave Toledo a 3-1 lead late in the second period. But the K-Wings, who have won 10 of their last 12 games, charged back with three goals to the dismay of a sellout crowd of 8,000.
Kalamazoo (31-20-6) scored a power play goal with 2:16 left and veteran Kory Karlander netted the game winner on a fluky goal off of a deflection.
"It stings for sure," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "That's the reason they are unbeaten in  games now. They find ways to win. But I thought we played hard too."
Toledo (26-27-4) was outshot 45-33 and goalie Thomas McCollum (5-5-0) finished with 41 saves. The Walleye remain 10th out of 11 teams in the Eastern Conference. The top eight make the playoffs. They have 15 games left to make up ground.
"Obviously those two points are crucial so it's a tough one to swallow," said Hedden, who now leads Toledo with 24 goals. "Good teams capitalize [on penalties] and at the end of the game it was a bad bounce. We played hard. Tommy was solid in the pipes."
The Walleye also got a goal from Tyler Doig. It also looked as though they had seized a 4-2 edge with 16:05 left in the game when Evan Rankin's shot hit off the post and then the crossbar. Rankin finished with two assists.
"It wasn't in. They made the right call," Vitucci said.
The Wings late power play marker resulted from a penalty for too many men on the ice.
"It wasn't a lack of communication on the bench," Vitucci said.
"It was just one of those ones that the puck bounced into one of our guys jumping over the boards."
On the game winner, Hedden redirected Scott Ftorek's shot from the blue line and it went right to Karlander who was parked on the backdoor. He spun and punched it in.
"It was just a terrible break," Vitucci said.
Toledo, which is in last in the North Division, has one more game with Kalamazoo, which sits in first. The K-Wings are 9-2-1 against the Walleye.
"Our guys have bought in to being a team," Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland said. "It shows the care factor. We've been down in this building before. We stayed positive."
Bootland called the last goal "a lucky play."
"We were just throwing pucks at the net at that point," he said. "We were almost just playing for the tie at that point. Karlander found a way to whack it in."
The second period included five goals and a fight. Toledo scored three goals on three straight shots. The Walleye struck first with Hedden's power play goal.
The K-Wings tied it only to see Toledo regain the lead 25 seconds later. The Walleye seized a 2-1 lead on Doig's solo breakaway and went up 3-1 on Hedden's second.
Then one of the fiercest fights of the season broke out between Toledo's Nick Duff and Bryan Jurynec. Duff landed a flurry of big rights before Jurynec landed a few blows. The pair then fell to the ice as the capacity crowd erupted in appreciation.
Toledo now embarks on a six-game road trip beginning Saturday night in Cincinnati.
"We'll let this sink until midnight and then we'll turn the page," Hedden said. "We have a huge one [tonight]. We can gain some ground on them."
The team is not back on home ice until March 18. The team has just five games left at the Huntington Center where it has a 14-15-2 record.
FISH TALES: Before the game, 8-year-old Jon Sugg, a second grader at Christ the King School, was honored as part of a "Pink in the Rink" celebration. The crowd gave a standing ovation to young Sugg, who lost his mother to breast cancer in December. The ice also was tinted a pink hue. ... Kalamazoo had 24 shots in the second. … Rankin has 19 points (8 G, 11 A) in 13 games against the K-Wings. …Both goalies were solid in a scoreless first period. McCollum had six saves, while Ryan Nie had 13 for Kalamazoo. Nie finished with 30 saves. … Eric Gaylord of Maumee was presented with a Jeep Wrangler during the second intermission after winning the vehicle on Jan. 22 by shooting a puck 114 feet through a small hole.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6354.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.