CINCINNATI — Hot goaltending combined with bad breaks add up to a dire situation for the Toledo Walleye's 2013 postseason fortunes.
Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser's stellar play in net continued for a third straight game in an opening-round ECHL series on Wednesday night. The rookie netminder made 35 saves and led the Cyclones to a 5-2 win over Toledo. Cincinnati seized a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Houser, who has won all three games for the Cyclones, had 16 key saves in an opening period dominated by Toledo before a crowd 1,663 at U.S. Bank Arena.
As they have in both of the first two games, the Walleye swarmed all over the Cyclone end early but Houser kept Toledo off the board.
“It's a goalie's dream of getting into that zone at this time of year,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “The great goaltenders have done that over the years. Right now we are struggling to beat him.”
Yet Toledo still trailed by one goal with 12:40 left when the Cyclones' tallied a fluke goal. The puck took a strange bounce toward Walleye goalie Kent Simpson on a dump in. He stopped the puck but Mathieu Aubin scored on the rebound.
“It was just a bad break,” Vitucci said. “It was a flip that once it landed, Kent was sliding over. But it bounced probably 10 degrees the opposite direction. So Kent had all he could just to save it, let alone try to control the rebound.”
Cincinnati has a chance to clinch the series at home on Friday night. The Cyclones will go for the sweep at 7:35 p.m. at U.S. Bank Arena.
“They were clearly the better team in the first period,” Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said. “They were faster, they out-chanced us, and they outworked us. Michael Houser made those big saves to keep us in it. It's the same story in game one, two, and three. They were the better team to start.”
The Cyclones backed up Houser's early play with a power play goal to go up 1-0 with 1:03 left in first period. Charles-Olivier Roussel scored on a rebound.
Toledo then evened the game on Max Nicastro's one timer. Travis Novak made a perfect cross-ice pass across the top of the crease and Houser could not stop Nicastro's quick shot. Toledo tied it at 1 at the 13:01 mark of second period.
Cincinnati immediately regained a one-goal lead on Josh Birkholz's first goal of the playoffs. It took the Cyclones just 1:27 to go back up 2-1 with 11:34 left in second.
Skalde said on the game-winning goal he just wanted to get the puck in deep so that his team could make a line change.
“That is a tough goal for anybody,” Skalde said. “When it happens against you in a tight game like this, it's tough. You need goaltending and the bounces and we're getting both.”
After the strange goal, Cincinnati then seized a 4-1 lead on Birkholz's wraparound goal just 75 seconds later.
Walleye forward Byron Froese scored with 44 seconds left in the game before Cincinnati's Brian O'Hanley scored an empty net goal with 23 seconds left.
Simpson, who has lost all three playoff games, finished with 24 saves. Houser made eight saves in the second and 11 in the third.
Toledo captain Kyle Rogers said the key to getting back into the series may be to get the puck up high on Houser.
“He's playing hard. He's reading the play well,” Rogers said. “Maybe we just need to get it up top. He's sliding down and moving side to side well. It's part of the game that frustrates you. If you're not getting those chances then we have issues. We just have to start burying them. As soon as we get one, they start flying in for us. We just have to keep going. We started the first period really well. We just didn't bury them.”
Toledo lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at home last weekend. The Walleye lost 2-1 in double overtime on Friday and then 5-2 in Game 2 on Saturday.
“I was happy with our game but not the final score,” Vitucci said. “We didn't find the back of the net as much as we should have with the opportunities we had like we did in the first two games as well.”
Each team went 1 of 3 on the power play. Toledo outshot the Cyclones 37-29.
“Any luck, it's bad luck right now,” Vitucci said. “Maybe with good luck we have three goals in the first period in each of our games. But we don't. So you look in the rear view mirror when you are driving and you end up hitting something, and we aren't going to look in the rear view mirror.”
FISH TALES: Cincinnati forward Mike Embach told the Cincinnati Enquirer that Toledo “didn’t have the best crowd support” for the two games at the Huntington Center.
He also said, “I thought, just wait until they come into our rink and see what’s going to happen, because we’re expecting our fans to run them out of the building.”
A crowd of 1,663 attended Wednesday's game at U.S. Bank Arena.
The home games at the Huntington Center featured a crowds of 4,042 on Friday and 4,191 on Saturday.