In a series that many thought would be over after four games, the Kalamazoo Wings have found a way to keep playing. A 4-3 win over Toledo on Sunday afternoon means they will hang around to play at least one more. The Wings used a three-goal second period to build a lead and hold on against the top-ranked Walleye and send the series back to Toledo for a decisive Game 7.
With a large contingent of their fans making the two-and-a-half hour drive, the Walleye were hoping to close out a series where they had been constantly frustrated by Kalamazoo. After the first six minutes of the game, it looked like the drive home would be a happy one. Landon Oslanski opened the scoring three minutes into the game by banging home a shot from the point. Zach Nastasiuk doubled the Walleye lead three minutes later finishing off a nifty passing play from Nolan Zajac and Alden Hirschfeld.
Both goals came against veteran Joel Martin who was a somewhat surprising starter. He had appeared in just one game, Game 2, a game in which he gave up two goals in the first six minutes of play. Unlike that game, which the Wings lost 4-1, Martin managed to close the door after the two early tallies.
Then the Wings offense took over. Blake Kessel opened the scoring with just under five minutes to play in the first period. Eric Kattelus took advantage of a Walleye defense that collapsed to his side of the ice. Kattelus slid the puck cross-ice to a wide open Kessel and the defender snapped the puck into an almost uncovered net.
The second period belonged to the Wings. Three different Kalamazoo players found the back of the net and by the time the whistle sounded to end the period, they had stormed back to take the lead.
Lane Scheidl opened the scoring with his first goal of the series. The forward had 28 goals in the regular season but struggled to find the back of the net in the postseason. He made the wait worthwhile as he took a pass from Cam Darcy drew it to his backhand and flipped it between his legs and past a surprised Jake Paterson.
Ten minutes later Brian Hart once again found himself in the right spot at the right time. Kalamazoo’s Tyler Biggs tried to stuff a backhanded past Paterson from behind the net. The puck ricocheted off of a couple of bodies before coming to rest right in front of the Toledo net. Hart was the first to the puck and snapped it into the back of the net for his fourth goal of the series.
Josh Pitt added an important insurance goal late in the period. The rookie, who had to be stitched up earlier in the game, scored off of another goalmouth scramble. Not only did the goal extend the lead, it came after a brief flurry of activity from the Walleye. Martin stopped all 10 shots he faced in the period and the Wings went into the break with the lead.
They weren’t able to get anymore pucks past Paterson in the third period and a power play goal by Toledo’s Tyson Spink with less than five minutes to go made the game tighter than Wings’ fans wanted. Martin and the defense kept the puck out of the net for the rest of the game and when the final whistle blew they emerged with the one-goal, come from behind victory.
The win did come at a cost. Justin Taylor, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, did leave the game in the third period and did not return. It appeared that he took a deflected puck to the face and his status is uncertain for Game 7.
Also uncertain for the final game is the goaltender who will be between the pipes for the Wings. Nick Riopel had started three games in a row (and won 2 of them) while looking fairly solid. However, Martin’s performance on Sunday (stopping 28 of 31 shots), and his experience might sway Coach Nick Bootland to keep him in the net for the biggest game of the season.
Either way, the Kalamazoo Wings have managed to claw their way back and force a final deciding game. Despite not having won in Toledo, they have played better as the series has progressed. They have a shot and advancing and sometimes that is all a team needs.
Game 7 will be Tuesday at 7:35 at the Huntington Center in Toledo.