READING, PA – The defending Eastern Conference Champions came into Sunday’s crucial game 6 needing their best players to play their best game of the season.
Jeff Lerg led the charge.
The Walleye struck first to continue the series-long trend where the team that has bagged the game’s first goal has also ended up winning the game. The Royals continued a season-long trend of having significant difficulty coming from behind, principally in this one because of the spectacular play of the Toledo goalender, who made thirty-three saves—many in spectacular fashion, which included rejecting a first period penalty shot for Joe Rehkamp.
Toledo struck 9:19 into the first period when Dominic Zombo threw a seemingly-harmless wrister from the right point that deflected off forward Josh Shalla and fluttered under the extended blocker hand of goaltender Martin Ouellette.
The Walleye stretched the lead to two 16:14 into the second, seven seconds after the conclusion of Reading’s second power play chance on the night. Toledo was able to take off on a two-on-one break led by A.J. Jenks just as the power play was coming to a close. Jenks carried deep down the right wing side and, using Evan Rankin as a decoy, shot across the body of Ouellette, who got a piece of the puck with his right pad and/or blocker but not enough to keep it out of the net for what proved to be Jenks fourth of the playoff season—and second game winner.
Reading solved Lerg only once, and it came with time ticking down on the second period, while the Royals were on the team’s third power play of the night. Nikita Kashirsky led out Yannick Tifu, who found a seam charging across the blue line and down the slot, where he got a shot that triggered a heavy scramble around the Toledo net. In the ensuing battle, the puck popped free to Cam Reid, who chipped it up and over Lerg for his third of the playoff season with less than 18 seconds left in the period.
Reading pushed hard in the third—outshooting the Walleye 13-2 and clanging at least one pipe dead-on. But the only goal went to the Walleye (and Jenks) who tacked on an empty netter with 1:22 left in regulation.
The two teams will battle it out in a winner-take-all Game 7, Tuesday night at Huntington Center. Faceoff is set for 7:35pm.
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