TOLEDO, Ohio – Offensive firepower. Physicality. Goaltending prowess. Both the Toledo Walleye and Tulsa Oilers shared many similar strengths heading into game one of the Western Conference Final Friday night. To take the opening game and make a statement, however, one team needed to thrive in all three categories while throwing a wrench in the other team’s efforts.
Six goals for. Checks being finished. Two goals allowed.
Tulsa received two goals from forwards Tanner Kaspick and Stephen Perfetto to carry a 2-1 lead after the first period. Toledo then went on to score five unanswered goals in the second and third period combined, running over the Oilers in the final 40 minutes to seize the victory in game one by a score of 6-2.
Toledo got on the board early in the first, as defenseman Kevin Tansey threaded a wrister from the blue line through traffic and past Tulsa netminder Devin Williams, giving the Walleye a 1-0 lead. Tansey scored only his second goal of the postseason, but boosted his league-leading plus-13 rating for the playoffs with the tally and two assists later in the bout.
Kaspick responded less than a minute later for Tulsa, surging by a Walleye defenseman before backhanding a shot by Toledo goaltender Pat Nagle at 6:13 of the first. Perfetto then put the Oilers up 2-1 later in the period after one-timing an Alex Dostie pass over Nagle’s shoulder at 17:03.
The second period brought Tulsa its first power play chance of the night, after Toledo defenseman Trevor Hamilton got his stick caught up between the skates of Oilers forward Charlie Sampair. After the Walleye killed off the tripping penalty, forward Greg Wolfe moved a pass up to a streaking Hamilton, who corralled the puck shortly after emerging from the box. Hamilton then faked the shot on Williams, quickly dangling from forehand to backhand to forehand again to score the equalizing goal at 6:12 of the second period.
Continuing with the theme of penalties, Tulsa d-man Adam Phillips was whistled for slashing later in the second period at 16:03. As the resulting man advantage played out and winded down, Toledo forward Tyler Spezia blasted up the left wing with speed before centering a pass to a waiting Hamilton. The Penn State product tapped the puck by Williams yet again for his second goal of the period at 17:47 to put the Walleye up, 3-2.
As the third period began, Toledo kept its foot on the metaphorical gas pedal. Walleye defender Randy Gazzola zipped a pass to forward David Pope at the top Tulsa’s right wing blue line. Pope then skated by Tulsa’s defenders uncontested to a waiting Williams, scoring his second goal of the postseason at 2:51 of the third to make it 4-2, Toledo lead. Tulsa Head Coach Rob Murray then pulled Williams for fellow netminder Evan Fitzpatrick, with a presumed injury sending Williams back to the dressing room.
The Walleye scored their fifth goal of the night after a sequence between forward Chris Crane and Dylan Sadowy. Crane was on the right wing in Tulsa’s zone, perfectly placing a pass to Sadowy. The Red Wings prospect went backhand before lifting the puck past Fitzgerald for a commanding 5-2 Toledo lead at 14:15 of period three. A four-on-four goal from Toledo’s Bryan Moore at 19:35 placed the dagger firmly in the heart of the Oilers, wrapping up game one by a score of 6-2.
Late in the second period, referee Chris Pontes received a puck to what looked like the back of his left knee as Tulsa tried to clear the puck from behind its net. Pontes pounded the ice with an open hand, calling for help and a stoppage of play before the whistle finally blew a few seconds later. Referee Jacob Kucki and linesman Christopher Williams helped their fallen comrade off the ice, with Pontes only skating on his right foot toward the bench. After having one referee on the ice for the remaining five minutes of the second, backup referee Alex Normandin relieved Pontes of duty, returning two referees to the ice for the remainder of the game.
Tulsa netminder Devin Williams was pulled early in the third period for Evan Fitzpatrick, after letting in his fourth goal of the game off a David Pope goal. Originally pointed out by Toledo play-by-play announcer Matt Melzak, Williams took a puck hard to the chest from a Tyler Spezia slap shot at 8:14 of the second period. The Tulsa goalie was then slow to rise from his knees, indicating that there may have been an injury on the play that ultimately led to Williams being pulled later on in the third.
Game two of the Western Conference Final will take place on Sunday, May 12 at 5:15pm ET. Toledo carries a 1-0 series lead into their final game at the Huntington Center before heading to Tulsa for at least games three and four. Game five, if necessary, would also take place at the BOK Center in Tulsa.