Walleye goalie Kent Simpson took it upon himself to will his team to a win with big points at stake at the Huntington Center on Saturday.
Simpson was strong throughout and spectacular at times as he finished with 35 saves to lead Toledo to a 3-1 victory over Wheeling.
Simpson had 14 saves in the first period, 11 in the second and sealed it with 10 more stops in the third. Toledo (33-23-9) strengthened its spot in the playoff race with 75 points. The Walleye currently occupy the eighth and final spot in the ECHL Eastern Conference.
“These are the games you play for all year,” Simpson said. “It's basically playoff hockey. We need these points so it's huge for us. Every save can make that bit of difference. I was happy to help the guys out tonight.”
The Walleye scored early and tallied two more in the third period. Trevor Parkes scored in the first and Willie Coetzee tallied the game winner with 9:20 left. Joey Martin added an insurance goal 36 seconds later.
Both goals by Parkes and Coetzee came on the power play.
The Nailers pulled their goalie with 2:31 left and Simpson made a great glove save on a rush. Simpson helped Toledo kill off all eight Wheeling power plays.
Simpson was strong again early in the second with a kick save. His phenomenal game continued as he made another great save on a point blank shot late in the period.
PHOTO GALLERY: Walleye beat Nailers 3-1
“He won this game single-handily for us,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “If it wasn't for him tonight we lose this game. He's the story. We had a great penalty kill and we had two power play goals. But that's all irrelevant if it wasn't for Kent Simpson's 60 minutes. The best penalty killer is always your goalie and he was.”
Chris Barton tallied the Nailers' only goal in the second period as a sellout crowd of 7,468 celebrated St. Patrick's Day early with green ice and green beer.
Toledo defeated the Nailers 5-3 in Wheeling on Friday. The teams meet again at 5 p.m. today at the Huntington Center.
Between periods of Friday night's game, Simpson put $100 on the board in the locker room to challenge himself and the team.
“Simmer put a 100 dollar bill on the board for the game winner after he gave up a couple goals he maybe should not have,” Vitucci said. “He wanted to let the guys know he was holding himself accountable.”
Simpson said he gave up two goals he wanted back that gave Wheeling life on Friday.
“There was some human error there,” Simpson said. “I know a goal like that can deflate the guys. So I wanted to get the guys to rally. They definitely pulled through for me last night.”
Simpson said he was just trying to play his game, which is to keep things simple.
Toledo is 7-0-1 against Wheeling this season.
The Walleye capitalized on an early Wheeling penalty as Parkes tipped in a shot from Martin to make it 1-0 at 2:01 into the game. Parkes has 11 goals and 10 assists in 11 games.
With the game winner, Coetzee has collected 22 points, including 16 assists, over the course of 15 games. Coetzee leads Toledo in goals (24), assists (33), and points (57) this season.
Wheeling (27-26-11) has 65 points. Prior to the current two-game winning streak, Toledo had lost eight of nine.
“We kind of slid down the standings a little bit,” Simpson said. “We were still in a playoff spot so there was no panic. So tonight is a good place to start playing playoff hockey,”
Vitucci said his team played only “20 minutes of hockey.” He said the team needs to compete and battle for 60 minutes.
“We will take this and run after the slump we were in,” Vitucci said. “Hopefully we will realize why we won this game and come into tomorrow's game with a different mindset. There has been a ton of worry. I have no fingernails left. We have a battle on our hands and we have to win every single game. Every one is playoff game.”
FISH TALES: Prior to the game, linesman Brad Phillips was honored for working his 1,000th, and final, ECHL game. … It was the eighth sellout of the year.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.