TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Walleye opened up their Kelly Cup playoff series against the Kalamazoo Wings Friday night, and with the exception of a minutes-long spurt in the first period, looked sluggish. In the end, however, the Brabham Cup champs managed to hang on for the victory, 4-3.
Jake Paterson got the nod for the Walleye tonight in their first game of a best-of-seven series against Kalamazoo. He stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced.
Kalamazoo got on the board early at 3:33 of the first period, when Justin Taylor drove the puck to the net, and a scrum in front of the goal freed the puck to Blake Kessel, who chipped it past the leg of Toledo’s Paterson and into the goal. The Wings’ lead lasted about ten minutes before the Walleye evened things up at one. On an odd-man rush, Dane Waiters floated the puck for Shane Berschbach, and although his effort was stopped by Kalamazoo’s Nick Riopel, it was followed up by Kyle Bonis for a put-back tally.
Toledo’s quick-strike attack continued less than three minutes later, as Evan Rankin snuck in behind the defense and roofed a backhander that sailed over the stick-side of Riopel, giving the Walleye their first lead of the game.
Toledo capped off three goals in 4:18 just moments later after setting up a high-slot play to Tylor Spink. Matt Caito dished the puck to Spink, who hammered a one-timer into the goal, building a two-goal advantage for the home team heading into the first intermission.
Midway through the second period, the Walleye attack maintained its efficiency and Toledo’s lead reached a game-high three goals. Berschbach found a soft spot in the Kalamazoo zone and was able to rip a wrist shot into the far-side corner of the goal for the fourth strike of the night for the Walleye.
Trailing by three but not giving in, the Wings took over the second half of the second period and were rewarded for their efforts. Kyle Bushee steered the puck to the net from the blue line, and after it was stopped by Paterson, the rebound landed on the stick of Cam Darcy, who slapped it into the back of the net to slice the Wings’ deficit to a pair of goals entering the third period.
In the opening minutes of the final frame, Kalamazoo sliced the Toledo lead to a single goal. Gaining the line with speed, Darcy dropped the puck off for Charlie Vasaturo at the right-side point, and his wrister flew through a web of screens in front of the net and into the top corner of the goal for his first career playoff strike.
Trailing by a goal and on a power play with Riopel on the bench, the Wings fired some last-ditch efforts towards the goal of Paterson, but the Walleye netminder made each required stop and Toledo took game one of the best-of-seven series by a 4-3 score.
Game two of this Central Division Semifinal series is tonight at 7:35 pm ET at Huntington Center.