WORCESTER, Ma. – In the fight for the playoffs in the ECHL’s North Division, the top three have opened a five-point lead over the Nailers entering Friday night’s action. The Nailers, in turn, held an eight-point lead on Worcester. Head-to-head games between two teams battling for one playoff spot are always tight and have a playoff-like intensity. This game would prove to have that feel early on. However, in the second period, the night got longer for one side as the other helped their cause in this battle for the final playoff berth in the division.
With just under three minutes played Nailers forward Troy Josephs threw a hit by the Railers bench. The Railers took exception to the hit, Chris Langkow and Mike Cornell jump up to defend their teammate. Cornell and Josephs drop the gloves in a spirited bout. After they go to the ice, Cornell throws an additional couple shots to earn a 10-minute misconduct for continuing the altercation. Josephs was also given a boarding minor for the initial hit and Langkow was given two for roughing.
After a scoreless first, Worcester would strike first. Matthew Gaudreau would fire a shot from the point. Jeff Kubiac was credited with the goal by tipping the puck on its way in and past Adam Morrison. Woody Hudson given an assist on the play as well to give the hosts a 1-0 lead at 2:02.
Just 23 seconds later, Wheeling defender Kevin Spinozzi had the puck take an unfortunate bounce off his glove and go behind Morrison to give Worcester a 2-0 lead. Langkow had tipped the shot by Ryan MacKinnon. Barry Almeida picked up an assist on the play as well.
Later in the period, the Nailers would turn the puck over to Langkow at the point. He passed the puck to Nick Saracino in the right faceoff circle, who dished it to Almeida and into the net which gave the Railers a 3-0 lead.
Just passed the midpoint of the game, the Railers with possession in the offensive zone. MacKinnon fired a shot that was stopped by Morrison. The rebound ended up in front of the net and Kubiac was able to fire it in for his second of the game and 13th of the season. This goal also ended the night for Morrison, as Matt O’Connor entered the game. Morrison ended with 17 saves on 21 shots on the night.
The Nailers worked hard to claw their way back into the game and it paid off in the mid stages of the final period. During a flurry of activity on Mitch Gillam, Spinozzi passed the puck to Danny Fick, who fired a one-timer passed Gillam to get the Nailers on the board.
The Railers would get the next one, however. Turcotte fired a shot from the top of the right circle. O’Connor would get a piece of it, but the rebound came back into the slot, and Hudson would blast it by O’Connor to give the Railers a 5-1 lead.
Frankie DiChara would wrap up the scoring as he netted one on the power-play with under a minute to go to give the Railers a 6-1 win.
Worcester finished the night 1-for-5 on the power play as Wheeling was 0-for-2.
Gillam finished the night having made 28 saves on 29 shots in the win as he improved to 15-13-0-1. Morrison took the loss falling to 14-13-1-0. O’Connor made 16 saves on 18 shots in 29:26 of play.
Worcester closes the playoff deficit to six points with three games in hand on Wheeling.
Wheeling will play this afternoon in Glens Falls, NY against the Adirondack Thunder. Game time is 3:00 pm.
Worcester’s next game is tonight as the Fort Wayne Komets visit for a 7:05 pm faceoff.
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