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CINCINNATI — Walleye coach Nick Vitucci turned to goaltender Jordan Pearce with his team facing elimination from the Kelly Cup playoffs Friday and the veteran didn’t disappoint.
Pearce made his first start of the playoffs and finished with 33 saves. He had 11 in the second period, 11 in the third and five in the third, and then stopped five more in overtime.
With it tied at 2, Pearce kept the game alive by stopping Mike Embach on a solo breakaway 4:05 into OT.
Pearce made two solid saves over the first four minutes to keep the Cyclones off the board. He also came up with two saves over the final minute of the first period to protect Toledo’s 1-0 lead.
It was Pearce’s first playoff start since the 2010 first round.
Toledo was beaten in the first round that year three games to one by the Charlotte Checkers. Pearce played in three of those games.
Rookie Kent Simpson started the first three postseason games and had a 3.42 goals-against average.
Pearce had played only 11 minutes in the playoffs when he replaced Simpson in Game 2. He had two saves. Pearce went 1-1-1 versus the Cyclones during the regular season (2.76 GAA).
At the other end, Cincinnati rookie goalie Michael Houser was once again a rock. The young goalie entered Friday’s games with a 3-0 record, a 1.47 GAA and a .951 save percentage.
In OT, he denied two great chances by Travis Novak. With 3:43 left in OT, Houser made an eye-popping save to deny Joey Martin, who was in all alone.
Houser had turned aside 98 of 103 shots by the Walleye entering the game. Counting the three regular-season games, Toledo had scored just eight goals in six games on Houser.
Houser said he had slow starts toward the end of the regular season, giving up too many early goals.
But he said he has focused on his play early in games in the postseason.
“They’ve been all over us early,” Houser said.
Houser, a 20-year-old native of Youngstown, played three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League before turning pro.
BOTTOM LINE: The Cyclones have outscored the Walleye 14-7 in the series. Cincinnati had posted back-to-back 5-2 wins over Toledo.
The Walleye came out with great jump in the first three games with plenty of quality scoring chances. But they’ve scored just two goals in the opening periods. Toledo did manage to beat Houser when Cody Lampl scored in the first period Friday.
The Walleye have scored three of their five goals in the third period.
Toledo is 18-5-4 when scoring first, while Cincinnati is 32-9-2. The Walleye are 18-5-4 when leading after first, Cyclones 25-5-0.
LONG ODDS: Only three NHL teams in the history of the Stanley Cup playoffs have rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
The 2010 Philadelphia Flyers rallied against the Bruins in the conference semifinals. In 1975, the New York Islanders came back against the Penguins in the opening round. The 1942 Maple Leafs, the only team to accomplish the feat in the finals, rallied back against the Red Wings.
The Walleye entered the game 0-1 in elimination games. They lost Game 4 in Charlotte (5-4 in OT) on April 11, 2010. The Toledo Storm held a record of 4-12 in elimination games.
WILD THIRD: Toledo managed to tie the game and send it to overtime on Travis Novak’s goal with 13:41 left in regulation.
Houser had been a stone wall and stopped Kyle Rogers early in the third.
The Walleye then had a two-on-one rush but Max Nicastro made just one too many passes and Aaron Bogosian couldn’t score with 11:30 left.
Houser then stops Bogosian to keep it tied at 2 with 5:54 remaining.
There was a mad scramble for about 30 seconds in the Cyclones crease late in regulation.
But somehow the puck stayed out and it remained 2-2 with 1:39 left. Houser managed to cover the puck just before it crossed the line.
Houser again stymied Toledo with 41 seconds left. Parkes had a shot in the waning moments that somehow toed the red line, but did not cross it.