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Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said he doesn’t have training as a psychiatrist to explain why his team was stagnant with a playoff berth at stake on Saturday night.
Toledo needed just one point to qualify for the ECHL playoffs but the Walleye instead lost 3-1 to Reading.
The Walleye could have clinched a spot with a win or tie against the Royals.
Reading scored two goals in the second period to break open a scoreless deadlock.
Toledo (35-25-9) was held to its fewest shots in a game this season as the Walleye managed just 16 before a sellout crowd of 8,000 at the Huntington Center.
“It almost seemed like we were in quicksand,” Vitucci said. “We didn’t have that zip. We lost a lot of opportunities to get to pucks. I’m not a psychologist or a psychiatrist so I don't have the answer.”
The Royals (45-18-6) clinched the Eastern Conference title and No. 1 seed with 96 points.
Yet Walleye forward Willie Coetzee kept his hot streak alive. Coetzee got Toledo on the board with 4 minutes, 39 seconds left. Coetzee scored his team-leading 28th goal of season. He has collected 24 points in 17 games.
“I think we weren’t out-battling them, outworking them,” he said. “We gave them too much respect. We should have realized this team wouldn’t give us anything.”
Toledo has three games left in the regular season, and the Walleye have another chance to clinch with a point when the teams meet again at 5:05 p.m. today at the Huntington Center.
“We need to outwork every team,” Coetzee said. “We need to be on the ball and make sharp plays.”
Walleye goalie Kent Simpson made his sixth consecutive start and was strong early in the game to keep it scoreless. He finished with 20 saves.
Nikita Kashirsky scored two goals for Reading, and Yannick Tifu scored the other.
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Toledo matched a season-low for shots in a period with two in the first. The Walleye had just five in the second before a spurt of nine in the third.
Vitucci said the credit to Reading and the blame to his team were about equal in deciding the outcome.
“The are a quick team and they transition well,” Vitucci said. “They were hungry and desperate for pucks and it just seemed like for us any time there was a loose puck it almost seemed like a mental process … instead of instinctively going.”
Vitucci said he will start goalie Jordan Pearce, who has not played since March 13, in today's game. He said he plans to rotate his goalies into and throughout the playoffs.
“Pearcy has to get games under his belt,” Vitucci said. “We want to go into the playoffs with two goaltenders feeling good about themselves.”
The Walleye also could have qualified if Kalamazoo lost on Saturday. The K-Wings beat Evansville 5-2 on Saturday.
“I was happy with parts of the third period,” Vitucci said. “So hopefully the positive steps we took in the third can carry over into tomorrow. We need more urgency. We need a kamikaze style. We need to be hungry, physical and aggressive and want it more than they do. There is a lot on the line right now.”
FISH TALES: It was the ninth sellout of the season. The team could also set the organization’s all-time attendance record today. A total of 219,562 fans have attended the 35 home games. The record will be broken if 7,014 attend the game. The franchise single-season attendance record of 226,575 was set during the inaugural 2009-10 season.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.