THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER Enlarge
For the reinvigorated Walleye to finish off what once seemed like a highly improbable feat, they need only to look over at the opposing franchise to see it’s possible.
Toledo faced a daunting three-games-to-none deficit to Cincinnati in a best-of-seven, opening-round playoff series. But the Walleye have reeled off two straight wins on the road to get back into the ECHL quarterfinals.
The rally has extended the series, which the Cyclones lead 3-2, to Game 6 today at the Huntington Center.
Only one other team in the 25-year history of the ECHL has ever rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
That team was the Cyclones in 2010. That year, Cincinnati trailed the Reading Royals in the conference finals before winning four straight.
It is one of only two instances where an ECHL team was down 0-3 and was even able to force a series to a seventh game. In 2003, Cincinnati also rallied against Atlantic City in the conference finals, but Atlantic City won Game 7.
“It certainly would be a nice storyline, but we’re not using that as motivation,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “When you’re down three, you have a steep hill to climb. We’ve chipped away, and it’s nice that it’s a series again.”
The Cyclones went on to win the Kelly Cup title in 2010.
Walleye forward Joey Martin, who scored the pivotal first goal in Toledo’s 3-1 win in Cincinnati on Saturday, said there is belief in the locker room that the team can pull off the rare feat.
“The pressure is on them to close that last game out,” Martin said. “It feels good but we just want to keep taking it one game at a time.”
Only three teams in NHL history have rallied from 3-0 deficits.
But Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said he knew Toledo would not go quietly.
“To get up 3-0 on that team is nice, but we knew it was going to be a tough series,” Skalde said. “We were in the driver’s seat up 3-0 and now they’ve won a couple games. Toledo is not an easy place to play. But we will regroup and be ready. ”
The Walleye must win today to force a Game 7 on Wednesday in Cincinnati.
Veteran goalie Jordan Pearce has replaced rookie Kent Simpson, who lost the first three games. Pearce came in and won Games 4 and 5. He has a 1.18 goals-against average, which is third best in the ECHL, and a .958 save percentage.
“This series has been a battle,” said Pearce, who played brilliantly at times on Saturday. “Every game this series has been close. They went up 3-0 early, but a couple just got away from us. Our season was about to end so you just go out there and play as hard as you can.”
The series has featured two double-overtime games.
“It’s nothing Simmer did or didn’t do,” Vitucci said. “We just wanted to make a change. Jordan is a four-year pro and we knew he would give us his best. He won Game 5 for us.”
Cincinnati rookie goalie Michael Houser was the difference in the first three games. Houser went 3-0 to start the series (1.47 GAA). He now has a 1.91 GAA.
Martin, who has two goals and an assist in the playoffs, said scoring early has been the key.
“Whenever you are playing against a hot goalie it can be frustrating,” Martin said. “So to bang one in there early is a big relief. It got us going.”
SCORING LEADERS: Byron Froese has a team-high four points with two goals and two assists. Martin has three points along with four other players: Travis Novak (two goals), Trevor Parkes (two goals), Aaron Bogosian, and Willie Coetzee.
Cincinnati forward Mike Embach leads his team with seven points, including three goals. David Pacan, who had a hat trick in the series opener, has three goals and six points.
The Cyclones received a boost when forward John McFarland was reassigned from San Antonio of the American Hockey League on Monday. McFarland tallied 25 points (12 goals) in 23 games.
TICKET INFO: Tickets for adults are $17, and $15 for seniors and children. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone at 419-725-9255, or at toledowalleye.com.
For the first time a Walleye playoff game will take place at the Huntington Center at the same time a Mud Hens game is being played at Fifth Third Field.
The ticket sales department is offering a combination package to attend both games. Those tickets are $22. The Mud Hens game begins at 6:30 p.m. and the the Walleye game starts at 7:35. Fans will be allowed to bounce back and forth between the games.
FISH TALES: The average attendance for the two games at the Huntington Center is 4,117, which is the third highest in the ECHL. An average of 2,001 fans attended the three games in Cincinnati. … Counting the regular season and postseason, the Cyclones are 4-2-1 against the Walleye on Toledo’s home ice. The Walleye are 4-2-0 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. … The Walleye have a 1-3 all-time record in the playoffs at the Huntington Center. The last home playoff win came in 2010 against the Charlotte Checkers. … Cyclones forward Mathieu Aubin was fined an undisclosed amount of money for careless use of his stick in Saturday’s game. He struck Willie Coetzee in third period. … The series winner will face Gwinnett in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The No. 3-seeded Gladiators swept No. 6 seed South Carolina 4-0.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.