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Published: Thursday, 3/24/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Still outside looking in

Playoff chase continues for Walleye

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Toledo captain Randy Rowe and the Walleye have six games remaining, including a three-game series with Cincinnati this weekend. Toledo captain Randy Rowe and the Walleye have six games remaining, including a three-game series with Cincinnati this weekend.
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The Walleye find themselves squarely behind the eight ball and with any slip up over their final six games, they will be scratched from the ECHL playoffs.

Time is drawing short for Toledo to close a five-point gap. The Walleye (30-30-6) have 66 points. Entering Wednesday night's games, they trailed both Elmira and Wheeling, who were tied for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"It's a make or break weekend now," Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. "If we run the table we will be fine, we will be in. If we don't, we will need help. We're optimistic that with six games left, we can still get in."

Greenville, Reading, and Kalamazoo have all secured playoff berths. Five spots remain open.

"We need to get points, plain and simple," Vitucci said. "We're eyeing up Wheeling and Elmira. But you just have to worry about winning hockey games."

Toledo has four road games left and two at home.

By virtue of a 1-0 win over Kalamazoo Wednesday morning, Cincinnati (31-26-10) moved into the sixth slot with 72 points.

Toledo takes on Cincinnati in three straight games this weekend. The teams meet tomorrow night and Saturday in Cincinnati. The Walleye would need to sweep the Cyclones to tie them with 72 points. They'll meet at the Huntington Center on Sunday.

Toledo is 7-4-1 against the Cyclones, including 4-1-1 in Cincinnati.

"We'll go back in the memory bank and know that we have had success against them and in that building, too," Vitucci said. "But it doesn't help a ton because they are familiar with us too. They know our tendencies and we know theirs. We are a little more desperate than them now. We expect some good games."

Goalie Thomas McCollum (9-8-2), who has started 11 consecutive games, posted a 1-0 shutout over Trenton on Sunday. McCollum has a 2.88 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.

"We're looking at this as a huge chance for our team to move forward and step up," McCollum said.

Randy Rowe, Toledo's veteran captain, scored the game winner in Sunday's win.

"We have to keep pushing forward," Rowe said. "We know we are fighting to chase [Cincinnati]. It's almost like a playoff series."

Vitucci attended Cincinnati's game against Kalamazoo Wednesday.

"I just wanted to scout them," Vitucci said. "We haven't played them in a bit."

The teams last met on March 5 and Toledo won 5-2 in Cincinnati.

"Teams change line combinations," Vitucci said. "I wanted to see an updated version."

Cincinnati has posted a 6-2-1 record on a season-long nine-game road trip.

Toledo went 1-1-1 during a three-game homestand last weekend, collecting three points. On Friday Toledo lost 3-1 to South Carolina despite a 36-17 shot advantage and lost to Trenton 5-4 in overtime on Saturday. They rebounded with win a over the Devils behind 17 saves from McCollum Sunday.

"I'll definitely take the same effort but I'd like double the points," Vitucci said. "We played well enough to win all three."

The Walleye are 4-4-2 in their last 10 and have a record of 15-14-2 on the road.

"We've been solid on the road," Vitucci said.

The last time a Toledo team did not make the playoffs was during the 2003-04 season. That was Vitucci's first season as coach of the Storm.

He took over at the season's midpoint for Steve Harrison after the Storm had gone 9-11-3. Under Vitucci, the Storm posted a 14-27-8 record. The team failed to make the playoffs with a 23-38-11 record.

In the Storms'16 years of existence, the team failed to make the playoffs just three times. The team won two championships -- in its second and third years.

In the Walleye's second year of existence, the team's roster remains influx as it has all season.

Forward Maxime Tanguay, who was claimed off the waiver wire, has been practicing with the team this week. Tanguay led the Walleye with 25 goals and 44 assists last season.

Two veteran forwards, Dominic Osman and Scooter Smith, may return to the lineup from the injured reserve this weekend. Osman has missed six games. Smith has played in just 22 of the team's 66 games.

Vitucci wasn't sure if forward Mike Hedden would be returned from a call up to Grand Rapids. Hedden has teamed with Andy Bohmbach and Evan Rankin to form the team's most productive line.

"We try to deal with it the best we can," Vitucci said of the callups to the American Hockey League and injuries. "Sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't."

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



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