For the first time in nearly three weeks, Nick Vitucci finally had something to look forward to.
The Toledo Walleye snapped a six-game losing skid with a 5-3 win over the Evansville IceMen on Friday at the Huntington Center, which meant that the Walleye coach wouldn’t have to break down another video pointing out the mistakes his team had made. Nor would he have to repeat the same things he’s been saying since before Thanksgiving.
“It’s more enjoyable doing interviews, talking about how the guys played hard and we won a game because of it, rather than how we lost one,” Vitucci said.
Travis Novak scored two goals in a span of two minutes, and the Walleye killed off an interference penalty to Russ Sinkewich with less than seven minutes left in the third period to earn their first win since Nov. 23.
“Yeah, this feels good,” said Novak, whose team had lost 10 of its previous 11 games. “You never like getting in those slumps, when you know you’ve got a team in there that you know shouldn’t be losing that much.
“It’s been the little things up to this point that we’re starting to do better, and it’s all coming together. Smart plays, not turning the puck over in bad spots, playing a little better defense, and capitalizing on our opportunities helped tonight.”
After killing off overlapping penalties in the first six minutes to Alden Hirschfeld (crosschecking) and a bench minor for too many men on the ice, served by Martin Frk, the Walleye (6-11-3) scored three goals in four minutes for a 3-1 lead.
“If they get a goal or two, where we are mentally and as fragile as we are, that might get us right back into panic mode again,” said Vitucci, whose team was six for six on the penalty kill. “[Goalie] Hannu [Toivonen] was right there for us, to give us something to feel good about and it was getting out of that 5-on-3 penalty kill, and from there, good things started to happen for us.”
Novak gave Toledo a 1-0 lead when he redirected Sinkewich’s shot from the point past Evansville goalie Garrett Bartus (29 saves) with 7:09 left in the first. Less than two minutes later, Novak gave the Walleye a 2-0 lead when his shot slid between the post and Bartus’ left skate blade, and Louis-Marc Aubry made it 3-0 with 3:24 left in the period.
Tom Zanoski scored for Evansville with 17.3 seconds left in the first, and Richard Nedomlel gave Toledo a 4-1 lead 1:58 into the second. Mike Seidel cut Toledo’s lead to 4-2 at 10:25 of the second. Daultan Leveille cut Toledo’s lead to 4-3 before Kyle Rogers added the insurance goal.