The Toledo Walleye thought they had found the right spark when Kevin Lynch scored a power-play goal with less than five minutes left in the third period.
Timing, however, was inopportune in a 4-2 loss to Elmira on Saturday at the Huntington Center.
Lynch’s power-play goal came at 15:35 — less than 10 seconds after the first of two penalties against Elmira’s Riley Boychuk expired.
Boychuk was called for holding and slashing at 13:25 and was issued a game misconduct as a result of an altercation in Toledo’s end.
If Lynch had scored before the 15:25 mark, the Walleye would have had two more minutes of power-play time. The first penalty expired and Lynch’s goal ended the second power play.
“We scored it with 1:51 left in that four-minute power play so we ended up going back to even strength,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “We obviously wanted to get one goal off it, preferably in the first two minutes and we’d still be on the power play. But we certainly got momentum from that.”
While the Walleye continued to pepper Jackals goalie Neil Conway in the game’s final five minutes, they couldn’t notch the equalizer and with less than 10 seconds left, Mike Vaskivuo scored an empty-net goal to hand the Walleye their sixth loss in the last eight games.
Still, a slow start hindered the Walleye, who were outshot 20-8 in the first and had to kill off a five-minute power play that bridged the first and second period after Richard Nedomlel received a game misconduct for boarding at 16:13 of the first.
"They started out way harder than we did," Vitucci said. "They were hungrier for loose pucks all over the ice and really kept us on our heels for the majority of the first 40 minutes."
Yet the Walleye took a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the game when Bobby Shea one-timed Kyle Rogers’ feed from behind the net past Conway (38 saves).
Harry Young tied the game at 12:12 of the first, as his high shot from the left point beat Toledo goalie Mac Carruth (36 saves) and Patch Alber gave the Jackals a 2-1 lead with 2:21 left in the second, catching Carruth well out of position to shoot into an open net.
“The first 40 minutes we came out and we were kind of sloppy, turning over pucks and not making crisp passes,” Lynch said. “We weren’t being physical enough on defensemen. Later in the third period, we just tried to stay consistent and kind of calm down and make those simple plays.”
Dane Walters gave Elmira a 3-1 lead at 12:57 of the third and after Boychuk’s ejection, Lynch‘s power-play goal — which Vitucci said was a turning point for his team — cut the lead to 3-2.
"I thought we carried the play after that," Vitucci said. "But it’s been a challenge to try and figure out what buttons to push with this club in certain situations and that’s one of them right now. I don’t know if we were dragging because of the loss last night but we need to play well against a team that’s similar in the standings to us, and we didn’t."
Vaskivuo scored an empty-net goal for Elmira with 7.3 seconds left.
“The past four or five games we’ve been playing pretty well and we’ve had that spark from the start,” Lynch said. “Tonight we just didn’t have it, and that’s unacceptable. You can’t come out slow in any game. This is professional hockey and everyone’s got to bring it every night.”