ALLEN, TX –It was wild. It was crazy. And for the Nailers, it goes down as a win. After racing out to a 7-1 lead at the second intermission, Wheeling saw the Allen Americans get back within one as they probably gave everyone in the City of Wheeling chest pains in the process but hung on for a Kelly Cup Final evening 7-6 victory at the Allen Event Center.
Just in case that wasn’t crazy enough for you, the game winning goal was a shorthanded empty netter by John McCarron in the second period that made it 7-1.
Yes, dead serious, you read that correctly, a second period empty netter.
It had often been said that hockey is the ultimate momentum sport, and it was all on the Nailers side early as they raced out with the first five goals and seven of the first eight. But once it turned, it was coming the other way in a hurry. Each team had a stretch of five straight goals, Wheeling the first five, Allen the last five. That alone is a pretty strong piece of evidence for that momentum theory.
Looking to rebound from a 5-3 loss in game one the previous night in which a third period comeback bid ran out of time and came up short, the Nailers got something that has been elusive for them in these playoffs; the first goal.
Working on a 4:00 power play, Derek Army let a slap shot go from the right circle and it beat Allen goalie Jake Hildebrand (6 saves) for a 1-0 Nailers lead 6:34 into the contest.
A long and low Clark Seymour wrister from the right point snuck under the pad of Hildebrand for one he undoubtedly wanted back made it 2-0 with 5:30 to go in the first.
Cody Wydo tied McCarron for the team lead in playoff goals briefly any way and netted his ninth for a second Wheeling power play tally a little over three minutes after the Seymour goal to make it 3-0. That would eventually be enough for Allen coach Steve Martinson to give Hildebrand the hook at the end of the period and turn to Joel Rumpel (12 saves).
Rumpel was welcomed to the game 6:03 into the middle period by Wheeling’s third power play goal as Nailers captain Shane Bakker sent an NHL caliber between the legs, backhand, no-look pass right on the tape to Anton Zlobin and he wasted no time rifling his fourth in as many games upstairs to make it 4-0.
Jarrett Burton made it 5-0 just shy of the games halfway point, before the Americans got on the board with a Chad Costello goal with a little under five to go before the second break.
Matthew Maione cranked a one-timer by Rumpel just over a minute later, though, to make it 6-1 Wheeling.
Now to the weirdest game winner you could imagine. With his team down by five and working on a power play, Martinson went the unorthodox route in trying to light a spark by pulling his goaltender for a 6-on-4 advantage. McCarron proceeded to put his tenth into that empty net with 1:05 left before the second intermission and thanks to a crazy third period it wound up being the difference.
Spencer Asuchak and Aaron Gens tallied goals under two minutes apart in the early going of the third to quickly make it 7-3, then a Gary Steffes power play goal made it 7-4 and really got the Allen crowd back into it.
Ex-Nailer Casey Pierro-Zabotel tipped in a Costello feed to make it 7-5 and prompt a Wheeling timeout, then Steffes second to make it 7-6 with 9:57 left to play in the third and ended Nailers starter Brian Foster’s (23 saves) night.
The Nailers started to regroup after that, though, and just in time. Franky Palazzese made four stellar saves on the four shots he faced to slam the door shut on the Allen rally, and allow his Nailers to hang on.
The series is now tied up at 1-1, headed to Wheeling’s WesBanco Arena for the next three games which are now all guaranteed to be necessary this Wedneday, Friday, and Saturday.
Lost in the craziness was the fact that the Nailers PP was 3/4 tonight, making it 5/8 in the series so far or an unreal 62.5%. A lot was made of Allen’s #1 PP unit coming in, and rightfully so, but Wheeling is showing they can light it up on the man advantage, too.
From the Nailers prespective, they have to feel pretty good coming home tied. While they need to learn not to sit back, which I’m sure coach Jeff Christian has already began to preach, when they’ve played their game they have controlled play against the defending champs in their barn. The biggest lesson from the first two games to take away is that if they get away from it – the second period in game one and third in game two – Allen is good enough to light it up in a hurry. Play “Nailer hockey” for 60 minutes and they will be fine.
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