The Kalamazoo Wings are facing a steep climb to win their first round series against the Toledo Walleye. On Tuesday night they made the mountain a little bit smaller by scoring four times in the third period to beat the Walleye 6-4. Peter Schneider recorded his first career playoff hat trick in the victory. The K-Wings now trail in the series two games to one.
It was a resilient win for the K-Wings. They came into the night down two games. In those two losses they had played well, but had been frustrated by the Walleye’s ability to score in bunches. In both games, three-goal outbursts by Toledo proved too much for Kalamazoo to overcome. They also lost their composure in a penalty-filled Game 2 that led to their captain, Ben Wilson, being suspended indefinitely.
Without their captain (he was replaced in the line-up by Michael Trebbish) and facing a Walleye team who wanted to finish business, the K-Wings came out and dominated the first period. They knew already that the best way to prevent Toledo from scoring is to make sure they don’t have the puck. Kalamazoo did just that by firing 20 shots at Walleye goaltender Cal Peterson during the first 20 minutes of the game.
Despite their domination, it was Toledo that took the early lead when a fluky bounce led to their first goal. Dane Walters brought the puck into the Kalamazoo zone and it trickled off his stick just as he crossed the blueline. Unfortunately, the two closest K-Wings had their sticks tangled up allowing Toledo’s Kyle Bonis was able to get the puck first. He skated across the net and flicked a backhander at the net. Nick Riopel wasn’t expecting it-or didn’t see it-because he barely moved as the puck went past him and into the top corner of the net.
It was a key moment in the game. The K-Wings found themselves trailing despite being the better team. Toledo looked like they were ready to rev up their offense.
Yet, that didn’t happen. Kalamazoo continued to patiently play their game. They won face-offs in their end. They finished their checks. And most importantly, they kept throwing pucks at Peterson. That hard work was rewarded with just under two minutes to play.
Justin Taylor won a face-off in the Toledo zone and went to the boards. Eric Kattelus gathered it in and fired the puck toward the net. Taylor, who led the K-Wings in points during the season, was able to tip the puck as it went by him and it went under Peterson’s left pad for the game-tying goal.
Toledo didn’t waste anytime getting the lead back in the second period as Bonis picked up his second goal of the night. On the power play, he was stationed behind the Kalamazoo red line and looked to hit a crashing Walleye with a pass. Kattelus got in the way of the pass, but unfortunately his skate deflected the puck past Riopel and into his own net.
It was another chance for Kalamazoo to crumble, yet in a trend that would continue all night, they worked their way back into the game. Five minutes after going down 2-1, the K-Wings went on the power play. They kept the puck in the zone for almost the entire length of the man advantage and cashed in on a pretty passing play. Cam Darcy took the puck at the top left circle and slid it cross-ice to an open Blake Kessel. The defender one-touched the pass to Peter Schneider who was open in front of Paterson and the red-hot Austrian knocked it past the Toledo goaltender to tie the game back up.
The K-Wings kept the pressure up, but couldn’t find the go-ahead goal. Toledo’s ability to score quickly came back to haunt the home team once again. After a long shift in the Walleye zone, the visitors rushed the puck out and into the Kalamazoo end. Tyson Spink put a shot on net and Evan Rankin, who had managed to get separation from his defender, redirected it past a helpless Riopel. Despite all of their hard work, Kalamazoo went into the locker room down 3-2.
With all of the carried over tensions from the second game, the threat of a big blowup loomed over the game. Yet, there wasn’t much extracurricular activity from either side. There was some shoving and pushing, but no fights broke out and the only punch thrown was by goalie Nick Riopel. Toledo forward Dane Walters stick got entangled with Riopel’s gear, so the goaltender gently pushed it in the opposite direction of its owner. Walters didn’t care for that so he shoved Riopel. Riopel responded with a short left that dropped the Walleye forward. There was no call on the play.
In the third, down 3-2 despite outshooting their opponent 35-17 (and that didn’t count the 20 or so shots that missed the net or were blocked) Kalamazoo came out strong. They again spent most of the period in Toledo’s zone and finally took the lead when Peter Schneider scored his second goal of the game.
Less than a minute later, the K-Wings turned the tables on Toledo and showed their own quick-scoring ability. Blake Kessel scored his second goal of the series as he wristed a backhander over Peterson while falling to the ice. With that, Kalamazoo had their first lead since midway through Game 1. Kessel did a great job of dispossessing a bouncing puck from Toledo’s Shane Berschbach before shooting the puck on net.
The lead was short lived. Two minutes after Kessel’s goal, Walters got his revenge on Riopel as he redirected a pass from Berschbach to tie the game at four goals a piece.
Once again, the K-Wings faced a potential loss of momentum. And again, they responded by putting pressure on Toledo. Cam Darcy had a glorious opportunity as he found himself with the puck four feet away from an empty Toledo net. Somehow he chipped the puck wide of the net.
A few minutes after that, Kalamazoo’s Brian Hart crushed Tyson Spink behind the K-Wings net (no call). Hart then followed the play up into Toledo’s zone where Kyle Blaney wound up for a slap shot. Everyone on the ice thought he was shooting it. Everyone but Hart. The Kalamazoo forward was ready when Blaney turned his shot into a cross-ice pass that was right on Hart’s stick. The former Syracuse Crunch winger one-timed it past Peterson for the 5-4 lead. Schneider would add an empty net goal to finish off his hat trick and the game ended 6-4 in Kalamazoo’s favor.
The win showcased exactly how the K-Wings can claw their way back into this series. Play physical, frustrate the Walleye and keep the puck off of their sticks. They’ll get another chance to follow that game plan on Wednesday night when the two teams meet up in the WIngs Event Center at 7:00pm for Game 4.
Observations: Kalamazoo recorded a season-high 53 shots on net...Schneider and Darcy led the team with 7 shots each...Darcy and Kattelus both had 3 assists...Bonis finished with 3 points (2 goals and 1 assist) and 8 shots for Toledo...Nick Riopel had 17 saves on 21 shots.