The Toledo Walleye were five seconds away from extending their season but instead saw it end in stunning fashion on Tuesday after the Cyclones rallied for a 4-3 win in overtime in an ECHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Cyclones three times rallied from one-goal deficits before a crowd of 4,333 in Game 6 at the Huntington Center. Cincinnati's Mathieu Aubin ended Toledo's season 3:05 into overtime. The Cyclones won the series 4-2.
With the game tied at 2 in regulation, Joey Martin put Toledo ahead with a power play goal with 9:36 left in the game. But stunningly — with their goalie pulled — Cincinnati tied the game up at 3 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation.
PHOTO GALLERY: Walleye end season with loss to Cyclones
“That was a kick to the stomach,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “Some of those were just lady luck goals. We played hard and well. We had guys trapped out there. It's frustrating and disappointing. But that's what makes this game so great.”
In the waning moments, Walleye goalie Jordan Pearce was on his back, then belly, and finally on his knees as the Cyclones desperately pressed. Garrett Wilson shot the puck from behind the net and it deflected off of Toledo’s Max Nicastro and into the net.
“It's devastating especially when we had the game and they scored a fluke goal to tie it,” Martin said. “But I'm proud of everyone. We battled right to the end. Not much you can do now. Lucky bounces are part of playoff hockey.”
The Walleye struck first when Trevor Parkes scored with 26 seconds left in the first period. Cincinnati goalie Michael Houser then kept his team in it in the early part of the second period.
The Cyclones then tied it with 3:38 left in the second period when Michael Pelech somehow squeezed the puck by Pearce.
Toledo had its fourth power play 2:24 into the third period and Andrej Nestrasil scored to give the Walleye a 2-1 lead. Nestrasil's hard shot hit the left post and went in.
But the Cyclones tied it right back up as David Pacan beat Pearce, who was prone on the ice to make it 2-all with 16:48 left in regulation.
Martin then jumped on a loose puck and scored the go-ahead goal.
But Aubin ended it early in OT when he banged away at the puck at the side of the net.
“You don't want to see that happen,” Walleye captain Kyle Roger said. “It was lucky puck bounces for Cincinnati. But that's playoff hockey. Pearcy played great. There was nothing he could do on those three goals. The puck bounced their way.”
It was the third game that went to overtime in the series. The Cyclones prevailed in two of the OT games.
“It was a terrific series,” Cincinnati coach Jarrod Skalde said.
It looked as though Toledo would send the series to Game 7 when Skalde pulled his goalie with a minute left. But the Cyclones managed to tie the game.
“We were in a tough situation,” Skalde said. “You're watching the clock dwindle down. You're just banging away and it found its way in.”
Pearce, who had won the last two games to keep his team in the series, finished with 33 saves.
After Martin scored a power play goal with 9:36 left in the game, Pearce made a good pad save to keep the lead.
Toledo led 1-0 after the first period. The Walleye then did all it could to add some cushion but could not beat Houser. The Cyclones owned the play after the midpoint of the second and cashed in to tie it.
Houser finished with 38 saves for Cincinnati, which advances to play Gwinnett in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“That's a great opponent but I'm proud of our guys,” Vitucci said. “They scratched and clawed all season long. We played hard. We created some chances. They got some strange bounces that ended up in our net. It's hard to swallow because those are things that you don't practice. “
Rogers said the team never felt out of the series.
“We battled back and that shows a lot of character and it's a good step for next year,” Rogers said.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.