Joey Martin, right, and the Walleye trail Cincinnati 2-0 in their best-of-seven series.
Their backs are squarely up against the wall, but the Walleye believe they could very easily be up by two games instead of down by two in their opening-round playoff series.
Toledo lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at home last weekend. The Walleye dropped a difficult game in double overtime to open the series, falling 2-1. Toledo then had a bevy of chances to score the first goal in Game 2 but the Cyclones scored five unanswered goals to take a 5-2 win.
“Everyone is upbeat and positive,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “We’re well aware of the opportunities we had and that we could be up 2-0 in the series too.”
The best-of-seven series shifts to Cincinnati for three straight games. Toledo must win two in order to send the series back home. Game 3 is later today at U.S. Bank Arena at 7:35 p.m.
The Walleye had four odd-man rushes in the first period in Saturday’s loss. Toledo completely carried the play in the opening period, outshooting the Cyclones 10-6. The Walleye hit the post and had several pucks slide through the crease.
“We are pretty positive,” Walleye captain Kyle Rogers said. “Cincinnati brings out the best in us. We play well against them. That first game could have gone either way, and the last game we let slip away, so we are optimistic.”
Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said his team dodged a bullet in the first period.
“That’s still a good hockey team over there,” Skalde said. “They will regroup, and we have to be ready for them [today].”
Vitucci said luck can play a major role in the postseason.
“Even though we lost 5-2, we could have been up 2-0 or 3-0 early. That’s part of playoff hockey, and that’s what makes it great,” he said.
The Toledo coach said his team’s veteran leadership could be a key to turning around the series.
“We have enough experience that being down 2-0 isn’t going to rattle us,” Vitucci said.
He said his team played with the urgency required in playoffs in “six of the eight periods.”
After a nip-and-tuck, evenly played opener of Friday, Vitucci said emotions got the best of his team in Game 2. The Cyclones scored four straight power play goals. They had seven power plays overall and outshot Toledo 18-5 in the pivotal second period.
“I thought we went overboard,” Vitucci said. “On four of those goals we had guys just running around trying to hammer people.”
Aside from controlling emotions, Vitucci said his team simply has to find the back of the net.
“We need to find a way to generate more offense,” he said.
Vitucci said the addition of forward Andrej Nestrasil, who was sent down from Grand Rapids on Monday, could provide a spark. Nestrasil was averaging more than a point per game before his call up to the American Hockey League on Feb. 13. He is fourth in scoring on the Walleye despite playing in just 40 games. He has scored 11 goals to go along with 30 assists.
“We should get a nice shot in the arm with Nestrasil being added,” Vitucci said.
But Vitucci also lost his most productive defenseman when Ben Youds was recalled to Rockford of the AHL on Tuesday. Youds has played in 43 games this season with the Walleye and leads all defensemen with 34 points. Youds has scored seven goals and has 27 assists. He is tied for fifth on the team in scoring.
Veteran forward Randy Rowe, who was injured in Friday's game, is doubtful for today’s game.
Vitucci said he is considering juggling line combinations to see if he can get “three lines going instead of one.”
Vitucci said he hasn’t decided which goaltender will start.
Rookie Kent Simpson posted a 3-2-0 record in six regular-season appearances against Cincinnati with a 2.00 goals-against average. Simpson set new team records for wins (20), GAA (2.36), and save percentage (.912). Vitucci said he pulled Simpson out of Saturday’s game after he gave up five goals because the team let down in front of him.
On the other hand, veteran goalie Jordan Pearce has experience on his side.
Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser made 26 saves on Saturday and 37 on Friday to win both games. “Both goalies are playing well,” Rogers said. “We let down Simmer the other night by taking bad penalties.”
Rogers said he expects the remainder of the series to be tight. Of the eight regular-season games, three were one-goal games. “We have played well,” Rogers said. “We know we need to keep control of the emotions to get a win.”
The team traveled to southern Ohio on Tuesday and will stay in Cincinnati through Saturday night.
“This couldn’t have come at a better time,” Rogers said. “We’re taking it as a chance to regroup and get on [the] road for a fresh start.”
Toledo went 2-1-0 at Cincinnati this season and went 19-14-3 on the road overall, setting franchise records for wins away from home. Cincinnati went 22-11-3 at U.S. Bank Arena.
“We know this is going to be a grind and a long series and we’re going to Cincinnati where we’ve had success,” Vitucci said. “We can keep things simple and play together.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.