CINCINNATI — It’s a whole new playoff series for the Walleye, who kept their season alive once again and guaranteed at least one more home game with a clutch 3-1 victory over Cincinnati on Saturday.
Toledo had trailed three games to none and faced elimination in the best-of-seven ECHL opening-round playoff series. But the Walleye won two games in a row at U.S. Bank Arena to make it a 3-2 series. Game 6 is set for Tuesday at the Huntington Center.
“We had a tough spot where we were down 3-0 and having to win two games down here,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “We just pecked away at it. The [3-2 win on Friday] gave us confidence. But we knew they would be tough tonight because they wanted to close it out.”
Toledo scored three power-play goals and veteran goalie Jordan Pearce was very strong in net, finishing with 34 saves. Pearce making his second appearance of the series, had a shutout until 24 seconds remained.
“We were playing with our backs against the wall, desperate hockey,” Pearce said. “It’s a little easier to play from behind. You just go out and play as hard as you can. If you lose, you go home.”
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Joey Martin scored a power-play goal to give the Walleye a 1-0 lead with 10:12 left in first period. Martin slammed home a rebound off of a shot by Byron Froese.
“We did a great job battling back,” Martin said. “Guys are happy in the room. But we’re only halfway there.”
Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser, who has been the difference for most of the series, then played very well in the second period before a home crowd of 1,803.
But Trevor Parkes solved Houser (20 saves) with a backhander. The power-play goal made it 2-0 with 7:01 left in second period.
Travis Novak made it 3-0 with 16:51 left in the game with another power-play goal. Novak kicked the puck up to his stick and beat a screened Houser.
Cincinnati’s Brian O’Hanley scored with 24 seconds left to end Pearce’s shutout bid.
“Jordan Pearce has been absolutely fantastic,” Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said. “He’s been in good position on everything. He’s making two or three saves that maybe he shouldn’t get to.”
Skalde said Toledo’s power play, which went 3 of 5, was huge.
“To get up 3-0 on that team was nice, but we knew it would be a tough series,” Skalde said. “There still is hockey left to play.”
Toledo killed off all seven of the Cyclones’ power plays.
“They say special teams win playoff games and tonight it, certainly did,” Martin said. “Pearce played excellent and gave us a chance to win.”
A vocal group of Toledo fans could be heard throughout the contest.
Toledo led 2-0 in the third when Novak scored his second goal of the playoffs early in the third. The Walleye then killed off the Cyclones’ sixth power play. Pearce kept the Cyclones off the board with a stick save with 12:26 left. Pearce also made a great kick save to keep the shutout with 7:25 left.
“Jordan Pearce was huge for us tonight and the power play was huge for us, too,” Vitucci said. “The penalty kill was fantastic.”
Pearce’s play and a bit of luck kept Cincinnati from scoring a power-play goal late in second. He was on his back at one point and avoided giving up a goal on a late scramble. He also made a glove save and toe save. His best stop came when he stacked his pads in the second.
The Cyclones enjoyed similar puck luck and stellar play from Houser to take a 3-0 series lead.
“It’s almost like the series is reversed now,” Vitucci said.
Houser came up big once again for Cyclones over a 4-minute span late in the second period before Martin broke through.
With the game scoreless early on, Pearce made a good stop on Michael Pelech, then flashed out his left leg and made a terrific pad save to keep the Cyclones off the board.
The seventh-seeded Walleye must win two more games to complete the unlikely rally against second-seeded Cincinnati in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Faceoff for Game 6 in Toledo on Tuesday is at 7:35 p.m.
“We will feel great until the puck drops on Tuesday night,” Vitucci said. “We realize there is another team trying to end the series too. We have momentum, but it’s a 0-0 game come Tuesday.”
FISH TALES: Toledo improved to 24-3-1 when leading after two periods. … Toledo scored a goal in each period. … Martin, Parkes, and Novak each scored their second goal of the playoffs. Willie Coetzee and Byron Froese each had two assists. … Attendance was 1,803 on Saturday