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An ill-timed slump continued for the reeling Walleye Wednesday night as they stumbled to a fourth straight loss.
Toledo scored first but then yielded four unanswered goals to Greenville, including two in a span of 1:12 in the second period. The Walleye (31-23-9) have now lost eight of their last nine games, falling 4-1 to the Road Warriors.
“I’m not thrilled with the team but I’m not dejected by the effort,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “I’m at a loss right now. It’'s tough when you are soul searching and our team is going through that.”
With nine games left in the regular season, the Walleye lost valuable ground in the race for the playoffs. Greenville (33-25-7) came into the game tied with the Walleye for seventh place in the conference. The top eight teams make the playoffs.
“Guys are pressing and maybe doing a little more than they should,” Vitucci said. “They have pride so they want to work hard and try to contribute. When you’re in a slump guys sometimes dig themselves deeper because they are working so hard.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Walleye drop game to Greenville
Each team scored once in the first period before an announced crowd of 4,751 at the Huntington Center.
The Walleye struck first when defenseman Ben Youds scored on a nice pass through traffic from Willie Coetzee. Youds’' one timer in the slot came 3:45 into the game.
But Greenville tied it as Brandon Wong tipped a shot over Walleye goalie Jordan Pearce’s shoulder.
Ryan Flanigan gave Greenville the lead and Jordie Johnston made it 3-1 just moments later. Lee Baldwin sealed it with an empty net goal with 53 seconds left.
“When you’re in a playoff push, every game is huge,” Youds said. “The biggest thing is competing. Everyone has to bring their level of play up. It wasn’t a whole 60 minutes. We need to have a full effort. It comes down to the individual.”
Pearce finished with 24 saves. Toledo went 0 of 3 on the power play, but outshot Greenville 30-28. The Road Warriors had lost five straight.
Toledo killed off 1:02 of a two-man advantage early in the second as Pearce made a terrific left leg pad save.
But Greenville took the lead with an even strength goal moments later. The Road Warriors scored again when Johnston got free behind the Walleye defense and beat Pearce with a slap shot.
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“It’s obviously frustrating,” Youds said. “We worked hard. It comes down to more or less a lucky bounce. But credit to them. It was a big momentum shift.”
Vitucci said the goals were “two broken plays that weren’t out of a lack of effort but a lack of luck.”
“Everyone was excited and pumped up [after the penalty kill] but it went the other way on us,” he said. “It seems like every game now we have two or three goals go in that we would like to have back.”
Coetzee, who was denied on a wraparound late in the second period, has collected 17 points (5 G, 12 A) over the last 12 games.
Toledo finished with an 11-7 edge in shots in the third period. Vitucci said he changed systems in the third and went to an aggressive forecheck.
“We played with a lot of physical energy,” he said. “So we can take something small like that and build on it.”
Pearce made a good save on a solo breakaway with 13:24 left. With 8:53 remaining, the Walleye went on the power play and had two shots on net.
Toledo plays three straight against Wheeling this weekend. The Walleye are at Wheeling on Friday before hosting the Nailers, who are six points behind them, on Saturday and Sunday.
“These are massive games,” Vitucci said. “This is a two out of three playoff series. We need to sweep if we can.”
FISH TALES: Vitucci was fined by the ECHL on Wednesday for a game misconduct in Saturday's game at Kalamazoo. Vitucci was fined an “undisclosed amount” of money.
Vitucci argued that a slashing penalty by Greenville’s Nick Sirota should have been a 5-minute major. He was ejected, but refused to leave the bench. Vitucci was not suspended for Wednesday’s game. But assistant Dan Watson, who spoke with officials after game was over, was suspended and was not on the bench. Watson also was fined.
The Walleye were called for a too many men on the ice penalty in the second.
“Wats is a big part of this team. So it’s tough not having him there,” Vitucci said.
Walleye captain Kyle Rogers has now skated in 204 games in a Toledo uniform. Rogers is now eighth on the all-time Toledo ECHL games played list.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.