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Toledo had beaten Cincinnati, the defending league champs, twice in a row on the road this weekend. The Walleye had a chance to sweep the Cyclones at home and move into a tie for the final playoff spot. But a referee's whistle negated a tying goal for Toledo with less than a minute left as Cincinnati took a 4-3 victory.
The Walleye trailed 3-1 after two periods, but they got goals from Scooter Smith and Evan Rankin to tie it. The Cyclones' Cory Conacher then scored his second of the game to re-establish the one-goal lead for Cincinnati with 3:29 left.
Rankin then looked as though he had tied it at 4 with 56 seconds left. But referee Curtis Marouelli lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle, disallowing the goal. Replays were shown on the video board at the Huntington Center as the crowd of 6,620 roared with boos. But the ECHL does not have video replay and the play stood.
"I put it past him, and I saw it go in before he blew the whistle," Rankin said as he wiped a bloodied lip. "The ref knows it. But at that point in the game, he had his hands up [negating the goal], and he didn't want to change his mind. From my perspective it was a good goal. You have to catch a break somehow, especially with how much these games mean. It's tough."
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said the play wasn't dead because the whistle wasn't blown before the puck was going in the net.
"He lied to me. He said the play was dead. But obviously the video showed the play wasn't dead because his whistle was going in his mouth as the puck went across the line," Vitucci said. "Either he has a terrible time processing a quick decision or he just doesn't have the [guts] to make the call after that."
Toledo rookie Andy Bohmbach tied the game at 1 in the first period for his team-high 68th point. Rankin finished with a goal and an assist. But the Walleye went 0 of 6 on the power play.
Toledo now faces a tall order after the four-point swing. Although not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Walleye would have to be flawless over their last three games.
The Walleye (32-31-6) are three points behind Elmira (32-28-9) for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Toledo now must win out and hope for Cincinnati and Elmira to lose. Toledo hosts Elmira on Friday in the home finale.
"We're four points back and there are six points out there," Smith said. "We just have to win them all."
Smith's perfectly placed, ripped shot up over Brian Foster's catching glove pulled Toledo within 3-2 with 12:07 left in the game. Smith said the potential tying goal looked good.
"But in the heat of the game, those are the kind of things that happen," Smith said. "It's just unfortunate. That's the game of hockey."
Toledo goalie Thomas McCollum, who finished with 26 saves, had been pulled from his net for the extra attacker during the play.
"From the bench it looked like the puck was loose," he said. "But the ref was behind the net like he is supposed to be. It's tough for him. Either way, someone is not going to be happy with it."
Down by two to start the third period, Toledo amped up the urgency and tied it. Rankin pounced on a loose puck in front of the Cyclones' crease and punched it in to tie it at 3.
But Walleye defenseman Dave Phillips turned the puck over right in front of his goalie, handing the Cyclones the go ahead goal. Conacher, who had two goals and two assists, tallied the game winner.
"We went from high as a kite to as low as whale poop after that," Vitucci said. "It was a terrible play by David Phillips. You don't expect him to make that play at that time."
Minutes after Toledo could not score to tie it at 2 on its fifth power play, the Cyclones went up by two on Barret Ehgoetz's deflection with just 1:31 left in the second.
Smith said the team shouldn't have been behind entering the third.
"We didn't play well enough. We started way too poorly for a game of this magnitude," he said. "We came out [in the third], and we did what we wanted to do. We were pushing. It's unfortunate."
The Walleye have just three games left in the regular season with games in Wheeling on Thursday and Saturday.
"We have to win those games, and now we have to hope other teams lose as well," Rankin said.
FISH TALES: Toledo outshot Cincinnati 36-30. The Cyclones were 1 of 2 on the power play. … Cyclones F Carl Hudson was suspended for Sunday's game for his actions in Saturday's contest. After the game ended, Hudson fired the puck into Toledo's bench. … The Walleye beat the Cyclones 3-2 on Friday and 7-0 on Saturday. … Down 1-0 late in the first period, Bohmbach scored on a snap shot from the right slot to tie it. Bohmbach's 25th goal of the season came with 2:08 left on assists from Rankin and Maxime Tanguay. … McCollum (11-9-2) kept Toledo within two goals with key saves early in the third. … The Walleye were outshot 13-9 in the first period despite having three power plays and went 0 of 3. "We came out flat and maybe a little too cautious," Vitucci said. "But we battled our way back into it." … The Cyclones made the early pressure pay off by taking a 1-0 lead with 9:42 left in the opening period. Cincinnati then seized a 2-1 lead with a power play goal 3:56 into the second period. The Cyclones scored just nine seconds into the man advantage.
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