The Wheeling Nailers continue to shock the hockey world. For the 2nd time in this North Division Semi-Final series, the Nailers have pulled ahead of the Brabham Cup Champion, Toledo Walleye. After 5-4 victory in Game 3, Wheeling has a 2-1 edge in the series with a chance to put the Walleye on the brink of elimination in Game 4 on Friday night.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any video highlights of Wednesday night’s Game 3, so you are stuck with my “lovely, totally perfect” game recaps.

Riley Brace got things going for Wheeling early just three minutes in. On the penalty kill, Brace broke a pass up at the Nailer blue line, went in on a shorthanded breakaway and beat Jeff Lerg over the blocker to make it 1-0 Nailers early. Brace wasn’t done yet. Just a few minutes later, Zack Torquato would blindly throw a puck towards the net, Brace was causing havoc in front of the net, and the puck took a bounce off Brace’s chest and in to make it a 2-0 Wheeling game.

Realizing the situation, the 2nd period is when the Walleye decided “We should really wake up and start playing again”. The Walleye would bounce back early as Tyler Barnes would feed a perfect one-time pass to Shane Bershbach in the slot who drew Toledo within one at 2-1. The Walleye would tie the game up midway through the middle frame as Cody Lampl’s point shot beat Franky Palazzese cleanly to tie the game at two. Yeah, Toledo wasn’t done there. Similar to Bershbach’s goal, Kyle Bonis fed a perfect one-time pass to A.J. Jenks who gave Toledo their first lead of the night at 3-2. And just for good measure, Justin Mercier walked in and just flat out beat Palazzese with a lazer from the top of the circle to give the Walleye a 4-2 lead. This lead would be good enough… so they thought. David Makowski would pull the Nailers within one at 4-3 in the final minute of the 2nd.

Wheeling would waste no time getting this baby tied once again as Sahir Gill would put one five-hole on Lerg to pull this game even at four, six minutes into the 3rd. In the late stages of regulation, a mad scramble in front of the Toledo net would lead to a David Gilbert goal that would give Wheeling a 5-4 lead and the victory.

Okay, time to bring some controversy into this article. As soon as this game was over, Toledo media, fans, etc were up in arms about two of Wheeling’s goals in particular. The second goal that went off Riley Brace’s chest and the fifth goal from David Gilbert. Keep in mind, my team is already on the golf course so this is wholeheartedly my unbiased opinion. Both goals that Toledo claims to be “bad calls on the official’s part” were good goals. As long as Brace didn’t intentionally direct the puck with his hand/chest, it’s a good goal. To me, it looked like it bounced off his chest and his movements were at least, him flinching because he didn’t see that puck coming until the last minute.

The arguments made on the fifth and game-winning goal were of two kinds: the first one was during the mad scramble, it was “illegal for Wheeling players to be in the crease like that.” The second one was that “the official had already blew the play dead before the puck crossed the line.” The rule on the crease is: A Wheeling player can’t enter the crease until the puck does. No Wheeling player was in the crease until the puck was loose in the crease so that argument is invalid. As for the second argument, yes, the play was blown dead… problem is, on replay, puck clearly crossed the line before the whistle came in. So in my honest opinion, both calls were correct.

The mind-blowing stats in Game 3:
1. Toledo out-shot Wheeling 52-24
2. Toledo had 7, count them, SEVEN power plays to Wheeling’s 1.

The Walleye have no one to blame but themselves for that loss. The chances were there, they just didn’t convert. Wheeling had their chances as well, but they converted. The Nailers are a very opportunistic team, and if you give them space, they’ll make you pay. Toledo has a chance to bounce back though. Wheeling’s starting goaltender, Franky Palazzese was injured in the late stages of Game 3. So, the Nailers will be going with the back-up in Game 4, Eric Hartzell. Palazzese had Toledo’s number this entire series so maybe this will be beneficial to the Walleye.

Although this is not an elimination game, Game 4 is an absolute must win game for Toledo. You do not want to fall down 3-1 in this series. You would much rather want to pull even at 2-2 and ensure a Game 6 back in Toledo next Tuesday.

Wheeling will have the services of Harrison Ruopp, who was sent down from the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins on Friday morning:

Game 4 gets underway on Friday night at 7:35pm EST from WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, WV.

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