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Published: Monday, 3/21/2011

McCollum gets shutout for Walleye

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Walleye's Randy Rowe battles for the puck with Trenton goalie Jeff Lerg and Taylor Vichorek at the Huntington Center Sunday. The Walleye's Randy Rowe battles for the puck with Trenton goalie Jeff Lerg and Taylor Vichorek at the Huntington Center Sunday.
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Playing in full-tilt desperation mode, the Toledo Walleye posted a shutout in a must-win situation over Trenton Sunday afternoon.

Goalie Thomas McCollum stopped 17 shots as Toledo blanked the Trenton Devils 1-0 before 5,509 spectators at the Huntington Center.

Captain Randy Rowe put his team on top just 3:18 into the game. Rowe's 18th of the season, which came just six seconds into a Walleye power play, would stand up as the winner.

For the third straight game, Toledo put plenty of pucks on net. Trenton goalie Jeff Lerg finished with 41 saves. But the one goal he let up was enough for the Walleye to earn two all-important points.

"As the game was going, I was thinking, uh-oh we've seen this movie before and we know the ending," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "But the guys bared down defensively and battled behind our blue line. We needed that effort in our zone."

Toledo (30-30-6) jumped over Gwinnett for ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The team also pulled within four points of Cincinnati for the eighth and final playoff spot.

"Our backs are planted firmly against the wall," Vitucci said. "We're working hard. That's why we're putting 40 shots on goal. They are laying everything they have on the line."

Rowe pounced on a big rebound and slammed it home for the 1-0 lead.

"I thought we played really well [in a 5-4 overtime loss to Trenton on Saturday], but we didn't get the win," Rowe said. "We had our heads up going into the game today, and we won 1-0. It was a good, hard game."

McCollum (9-8-1) was able to protect the precarious one-goal lead with help from his teammates. Toledo gave up eight shots in the first, four in the second, and five in the third.

"We've been having a tough time scoring goals and getting a shutout is the best way to get a win," McCollum said. "I have to give all the credit to the team. They played incredible in front of me. I only had two or three tough saves to make."

McCollum said his teammates blocked shots and tied opponents up. But he said he prefers facing more shots.

"I'd rather have 45, 50 shots every night," McCollum said. "You stay in the flow of the game and keep in a groove. You don't want to stand there for long periods of time."

McCollum and the Walleye had to kill off a 6-on-4 Trenton advantage over the final 45 seconds after Kyle Page was called for hooking and the Devils pulled their goalie.

Rowe said the team wanted to get traffic in front of Lerg, who led Michigan State to a national championship in 2007. Jason Lepine had the initial shot on the goal.

"He's a quick goalie," Rowe said. "The rebound bounced on my stick, and the shot luckily went through his legs and in."

Veteran defenseman Ryan Stokes, who just came off the injured reserve, took a puck to his nose off a slap shot in the second period. The injury left a trail of blood to the bench. Vitucci said Stokes will have reconstructive surgery this morning and could miss the rest of the season.

"I saw his face when he got to the bench, and it wasn't pretty," Vitucci said. "It tears the insides out of you. His nose looks like it was kicked in pretty hard. It's a tough blow."

Toledo outshot Trenton 15-4 in the second period. Mike Hedden made a nice move to his backhand for a terrific chance midway through the game. But his shot ricocheted off the post. McCollum came up with a glove save to prevent Trenton from cashing in on a 2-on-1 breakaway late in the second.

The Walleye have six games remaining, and three are against Cincinnati. They can pull ahead of the Cyclones for the final spot with three wins.

"It's not the position we wanted to be in," Vitucci said. "But it's still a position where we can get over them. This is what you play the game for."

The Walleye play the Cyclones on the road Friday and Saturday before the teams play at the Huntington Center next Sunday.

"It's almost like a playoff series -- a mini round robin that we're going into," Rowe said. "It will be a battle."

FISH TALES: Newly acquired F Maxime Tanguay was not in the lineup Sunday. … The Walleye are second in the ECHL with 34.29 shots per game. … The last shutout posted by Toledo was Dec. 28, 2010, at Cincinnati. This was only the second 1-0 win in Walleye franchise history (the other was Oct. 24, 2009, also against Trenton). … Toledo is 20-6-3 this season when scoring the first goal of the game. … Toledo killed off two penalties in the first period to protect the one-goal lead. The Walleye had two late quality scoring chances, but Lerg made the stops. Lerg, who stands only 5-foot-6, stoned a multitude of shots when the Walleye were on the power play twice in the second period. The Livonia, Mich., native holds several all-time goaltending records at Michigan State. … Lerg kept it a one-goal game with a good save on Willie Coetzee's shot with 14:02 left. McCollum then did his part to protect the shutout with a blocker save at the midpoint of the third period. Lerg then responded with a kick save with 8:13 left.

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



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