WHEELING, W.V. – In a divisional playoff race as tight as the ECHL’s North Division, every point is critical. After a rough six-game road trip that saw the Nailers go 1-2-3, the Nailers returned to Wesbanco Arena where they have been successful this year with a 16-10-2-0 record coming into the game against the Railers Wednesday morning.
Worcester came to Wheeling having won last Friday 5-0 and Saturday 3-2 (SO) over Wheeling last weekend at DCU Center. Wheeling had a six-point lead over the Railers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division.
Didn’t take long for the home team to jump out to the lead as Freddie Tiffels squeezed a shot past Mitch Gillam. Troy Josephs and Chris Francis assisting on Tiffels’ 12th of the season at 1:16 of the first.
On the first power play of the game, Matthew Gaudreau fired a shot from the right faceoff circle that was tipped by Nick Saracino and behind Nailers goaltender Adam Morrison. The powerplay goal at 8:47 was also assisted by Ryan MacKinnon.
While skating 4-on-4, Cody Wydo picked up a loose puck to the side of the net and passed out front to Ross McMullan who fired home his fourth of the season on the one-time pass from Wydo. Reid Gardiner also picked up an assist on the goal at 16:23 of the first.
Early in the second, the Nailers had killed off the 5-on-3 penalty kill but Worcester scored on another tip in front of Morrison. This time it was Chris Langkow who tipped a shot from MacKinnon. The shot was from the right point. Barry Almeida credited with help as well on the powerplay goal at 5:34 of the second.
After two huge saves in the first half of the third period by Gillam keeping it tied the Nailers got one to go with just under seven minutes to play. Riley Bourbonnais picked up the puck and passed it to Garrett Meurs who fired the one-timer passed Gilliam to put Wheeling ahead to stay. The goal was Meurs 20th of the season and came at 13:04 in the third.
With just over two minutes to play, Worcester pulled Gillam in favor of the extra attacker. Gaudreau fired a shot from the left point. Morrison made the save and Nick Sorkin was able to flip the puck up and out of the zone. As Wydo was racing to get to the loose puck in the neutral zone, Gaudreau interfered with and took down Wydo preventing him from getting to the puck and a breakaway on an empty net. Referee Stephen Thomson saw that Wydo would have gone in alone if Gaudreau had not interfered and ruled that the play was an empty net goal at 18:41
Ten seconds later, Tiffels skated in on the left side and squeezed another shot through Gillam for his second of the game to ice it away for the hosts. Josephs and Bourbonnais with help on the play at 18:51.
Morrison made 33 saves in the victory for Wheeling. This was the first by a Nailer goaltender while wearing the Golden Goalie jersey. Morrison’s record is now 13-11-1-0. Gillam made 20 saves on the 24 shots he faced. His record now stands at 13-13-0-1. Worcester was 2-for-4 on the man advantage. Wheeling was without a powerplay opportunity on the day.
Wheeling extended its lead to eight points in the playoff race. Wheeling trails third place Reading by a single point (heading into Thursday’s game). The Nailers also trail Adirondack by five points for the final home-ice spot in the division with another point to division-leading Manchester.
The Nailers next games will be against division rival Reading Friday and Saturday. Faceoff between the Nailers and Royals is scheduled for 7:05 pm both evenings.
Worcester will head home and prepare for a Sunday visit from the Adirondack Thunder. Faceoff is scheduled for 3:05 pm.