CINCINNATI — Walleye captain Kyle Rogers refused to watch the season slip away as he and his teammates staved off elimination from the Kelly Cup playoffs in dramatic fashion.
The Walleye rallied to post a thrilling 3-2 win in double overtime over Cincinnati on Friday night. Rogers scored the game-winner 1:41 into the second OT at U.S. Bank Arena to keep Toledo’s season alive.
“All the boys played hard tonight,” Rogers said. “We battled hard and nobody gave up. We feed off the stress. We know if we don’t win today, the season is over and the boys won’t be together any more. We are a family and we definitely don’t want the season to end yet.”
Cincinnati had won the first three games of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals and could have swept the Walleye.
Defenseman Cody Lampl gave Toledo an early 1-0 lead before the Cyclones tallied two answered goals, including one with 22 seconds left in the second period. But forward Travis Novak tied it back up for Toledo with 13:14 left in regulation.
“I was so proud of them, getting scored on late in the second period, and we came out [and] outshot them 15-5 in the third,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “We had a lot of glorious scoring opportunities in that third period. We were down, but we weren’t out.”
Walleye goalie Jordan Pearce got his first start of the playoffs and finished with 33 saves, including 11 in two intense third and overtime periods.
“It’s exciting to play overtime in the playoffs, especially with the season on the line,” Pearce said. “You try not to think about the pressure. It’s a mind-set. I focused on one save at a time. I knew it would be a tight game.”
Cincinnati rookie goaltender Michael Houser, who has been the difference throughout much of the series, was stellar in net again. He finished with 42 saves.
“Boy, he made some great saves again,” Vitucci said. “As did Jordan. He gave us a chance to win. We made the change just to see if something sparks. Jordan came in and did a great job for us.”
Toledo now trails 3-1 in the series.
“It’s stressful, but you have to have a calming influence,” Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said. “It’s fun to be a part of. It’s tough when you lose them. We have been on the good end of it. The key now is to put it behind us and get ready for tomorrow.”
Game 5 will be played at 7:30 tonight. The series would shift back to Toledo on Tuesday if the Walleye are able to win again.
“Hopefully this gives us a bit of a confidence boost and sort of erases our demons,” Vitucci said. “We’ve battled here.”
The Walleye took a 1-0 lead when Lampl scored on a shot from the point with 5:49 left in first. Willie Coetzee, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season, got his first point of the playoffs with an assist on the play. Coetzee made the pass out to Lampl, whose shot found its way through traffic in front and got by Houser.
Cincinnati tied it up when Mathieu Aubin beat Pearce 3:36 into second. Pearce then came up with two quality saves to prevent a Cyclones power-play goal to keep it 1-1 with 10:40 left in the second.
The Walleye gave up a potentially devastating goal with 22.6 seconds left in the second period. Mike Embach scored his third of playoffs when he finished off a two-on-one break by outwaiting Pearce and then beat him with a backhander.
With the season slipping away, Novak scored on a tip and Aaron Bogosian got an assist.
After the game went to overtime, Houser stopped 11 Toledo shots. But Rogers scored on the Walleye’s second shot in double overtime.
“I snuck by the D there and I just put it low-blocker,” Rogers said. “That’s a very good feeling right now. It’s huge. We needed to get this win under our belt. We have to carry this in to tomorrow.”
Lampl assisted on Rogers’ game-winner.
“We’ve been fortunate the first three games,” Skalde said. “We’ve gotten some breaks. Both teams exchanged some chances there. It was a great shot by Kyle Rogers for the game-winner.”
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.