WHEELING, WV – Sometimes, you just don’t get the bounces. Sometimes for one reason or another things just don’t go your way. And sometimes in sports, the better team on a given night does not win. All of those could be used to describe Saturday night’s game five of the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Finals for the Wheeling Nailers, who dropped a 3-2 decision for their first loss in a one goal game in 11 one goal games in these playoffs, and their first loss in five OT contests as Greger Hanson‘s 15th of the playoffs just 17 seconds into OT ended it and gave Allen a 3-2 series lead heading back to Texas.
“That’s what they say, it usually happens real fast or it takes forever,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said. “We battled hard all night.”
After making an initial save on Nikita Jevpalovs, Nailers goalie Franky Palazzese was squared up do same on Hanson’s attempt off of the long rebound, but a Wheeling defender laid out to block the shot and it tipped off of his stick, changing directions on Palazzese and leaving him with little opportunity to make the save.
“You see the those types of goals in overtime,” Nailers captain Shane Bakker said. “I was on the bench, I saw the pick go out to the blue line there and we had a guy lay out to block it and it hit his stick and went over Franky’s glove.
“You see it happen all the time, we were hoping one would go our way and unfortunately it didn’t.”
For the majority of the game, the Nailers got the better of the chances and out-shot the Americans 26-16 in the contest, but just couldn’t get the bounces, which seemed to be oddly enough all going to Allen.
“Tonight, we played a lot better game but still came up short so it hurts a little more,” Bakker said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they have a good team over there and they know how to win.”
Jarrett Burton opened the scoring with 7:44 left in the second period with his seventh of the post season as Ty Loney found him coming down the middle of the ice, and he wired a shot high glove on Allen netminder Riley Gill to make it a 1-0 Wheeling lead.
Wheeling saw the lead evaporate quickly in the third, though, 3:33 into the frame on a very fortunate bounce for Allen. Rick Pinkston missed the net on the glove side of Palazzese, and the puck bounced perfectly back out the other side on to the tape of Chad Costello who was lurking there to put home his seventh of playoffs to even the score. You could shoot that puck off the boards any number of times you’d like, and never see it bounce out that way again.
Then, Vincent Arseneau fired a shot that if Palazzese saw 100 times, he’d stop it 99 times, but this happened to be that one as the puck just got underneath his leg and bounced in behind him after he got a piece of it, making it 2-1 Allen.
“The first one was a bad bounce, the second one Franky probably wants back,” Christian said. “I guess we can never say never (on bounce on the Costello goal).
“We call them a Banco bounce and it went against us. Little things like that aren’t going to deter this team, there’s a lot of heart and a lot of character.”
The Nailers had several chances throughout the game pull ahead, including a laser of a shot from Anton Zlobin that either hit post or high on the stick of Gill in the second period, a shot through a ton of traffic that fortunately for Allen went off a defender and off of Gill who was down and out in the play, and Ty Loney being absolutely robbed in the third when they trailed as Gill snagged a point-blank rebound try with his glove. The bounces just wouldn’t cooperate for them like they were for Allen.
Wheeling really got rolling late in the contest looking to tie it up, and eventually Cody Wydo did with 3:57 left in regulation with his 11th goal of the playoffs, as Mathew Maione let wrister from the point go and it hit Wydo in the slot, but when it fell he was able to get his blade on it and whip it by Gill to even things up at 2-2.
“All Cody Wydo does is score big goals,” Christian said. “He came through for us again, that guy’s all heart.”
The Nailers had several looks late in regulation looking to take care of business before OT, and it ended up that not getting one to go proved costly because they never even had a chance to posses the puck in the entire 17 seconds it took Allen to get the win in the extra frame.
Now the series shifts back to Texas for games six and seven with the Nailers on the ropes, which may not be as bad of a thing as you may think, because they’ve pretty much had them to the ropes since January and have done their best work in such positions.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us no question, but we’ve won in there once and we can do it again,” Christian said. Win one game, and anything can happen in game seven.
“It’s one shift, one period, one game at a time. You can’t look at it as ‘oh man it’s too much to do.’ It’s not too much to do, if you win your shift, if you play the way we want to play … we can do it, and when we win that one game, we’ll have the momentum going into game seven.”
While Allen is in a good spot in their quest to defend their title from last year, the Nailers are only in the spot they have been in so many times now.
“I thought the guys battled their hearts out,” Burton said. “It’s a long series, we’ve had to go the distance a few time these playoffs and we are looking to do it again.
“They’re a beatable team. We’ve got the personnel to go win a championship. The Nailers way is when our backs are to the wall, we’re going to scratch and claw and do everything we can to win the series.”
Before the last round, no team in league history had ever erased a 3-2 deficit on the road, but the Nailers became the first, fighting back to knock off a very good South Carolina team to get this far. No team has ever overcome a 3-2 deficit of any form in the Kelly Cup Finals, but we’ve seen how little history like that has applied to these Nailers.
“Personally I like playing with my back to the wall,” Bakker said. There’s no choice, we have to get (game six) so it’s do or die for us now.
“When you look at it, it’s an uphill climb, but we’ve done it before. There’s one group I know that can do it and it’s that locker room and the guys in there.”
Game six is a do or die one for the Wheeling, but is not until Thursday night giving both teams a needed rest to heal up and recharge before going back to war for the big prize.
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