WHEELING, WV – The Wheeling Nailers, playing in front of a standing room only crowd of 5,439, had a golden opportunity to put themselves in the driver seat in the Kelly Cup Final, but instead, now sit in a 2-2 deadlock, knowing they have a trip back to Texas next week.  Turnovers, missed chances, and a second period goal that was unjustly waived off all factored in, as the Allen Americans evened the best-of-7 at 2-2 with a 4-2 victory.

“It’s disappointing,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said.  “They’re going to say they earned it, but we gave it away.

“Two breakaways, a 3-on-0.  Two goals that should never happen in playoff hockey.”

The Nailers weren’t bad, but they weren’t at their best.  But neither was Allen, as Wheeling gift wrapped all three of their goals (fourth was an empty netter) with bad turnovers.

“I don’t feel like we played our best game tonight,” Nailers captain Shane Bakker said.  “I don’t know if it was nerves, having a chance to go up in the Kelly Cup Final maybe it got to us, but we just didn’t play our best.

“We were guilty of that … trying to force stuff that wasn’t there.  The kind of hockey that makes us successful is just chipping it in and going to work.  We’ve got to play the way that makes us success and avoid the turnovers.”

Wheeling fans will be talking about what appeared to be an early second period go ahead goal by Jarrett Burton for a long time to come, as referee Pierre Lambert – who was not in position to see the whole play – waived it off for what was announced as “coincidental contact” between Allen goaltender Riley Gill (32 saves) and Derek Army.  There was no contact.  None.  Lambert, if you remember, also had a controversial no goal call against Wheeling in game six against South Carolina in the last round.

Bakker took the puck to the net and got off a shot from in close, and Army went to the edge of the paint with his stick down looking for the rebound that came out the backside to Burton.  Guarding against an attempt from Army, Gill lost track of the puck and did not so much as react to Burton burying it.  He also did not plead for a call, as goalies often will in cases of alleged goaltender interference.  He knew he had been fooled and beat.  And in the aftermath of what I will easily call the worst call I have witnessed covering hockey, he knew his team had been given a gift.

As has been made well known, the league is utilizing a two referee system and has been the entirety of the post season.  There is no reason for them both to get it wrong, or at least Nic Leduc not to oppose Lambert’s decision.  If the ECHL had video replay, which it SHOULD have had a long time ago, there is no way it does not count.

Flash back to the end of Wheeling’s win in game three, Allen coach Steve Martinson was heated complaining about James Melindy‘s game winning goal, asking for goaltender interference.  He had no case, but it is well known the reputation the veteran bench boss has.  Thinking that and disallowed goal are not connected, would be incredibly naive.

“Obviously I thought the (Burton) goal was a good goal,” Christian said of the play.  “People make mistakes, what are you gonna do.

“(Lambert) said that Army interfered with the goalie, it looked to me like Army was just there, but it happened so quickly it’s hard for them to tell.

“You know, they were complaining about the Melindy goal in the last game and all of a sudden this one gets allowed, it’s frustrating.  Obviously they were probably watching for it.

“I’ve got to watch it again and see, but from our perspective it was a good goal.”

Now, Wheeling had every opportunity to win the game despite the call, and gift wrapped Allen’s goals for them with horrendous turnovers, but it changed the course the game.  That goal would have made it 2-1, and  it would’ve been 3-1 later on.  That makes it a whole different ball game.

Right off the hop the Nailers missed on a golden opportunity for an early lead, failing to convert on a abreviated 5-on-3, and later a 4-on-3, and finished 0/4 on the power play.

“It’s very frustrating when we draw up things and we don’t execute them,” Christian said of the power play.  “If we draw it up a certain way and the players go out and do it their own way it’s going to be very frustrating.

“We’ve got to talk about it, we’ve got to execute on the 5-on-3, we’ve got to make that hurt them.”

The first of the costly turnovers came with just under four minutes to go in the first, as Chad Costello collected a Wheeling mistake behind the goal and found Casey Pierro-Zabotel in front, and he promptly fed Gary Steffes on the door step for his 12th of the post season.

Dan O’Donaghue, who was a question mark to even play in game four after an injury knocked him out of game three, netted his third of the post season on Danny Fick rebound with 15.1 seconds let on the clock to make it a 1-1 game at the first intermission.

Not long after the debacle with the Burton no-goal, Cody Wydo got one that counted for his 10th of the playoffs – tying John McCarron for the team lead – to give the Nailers what ended up being their only lead, going to the net with his stick down to direct in an O’Donaghue feed past Gill.

The Nailers over-committed on a rush, and Allen caught them with a 3-on-0 breakaway and although Franky Palazzese (25 saves) made a dazzling first save on Vincent Arseneau, Nikita Jevpalovs found the rebound for his second to even it at 2-2.

Then 3:38 into the third, Costello capitalized on another turnover by the Nailers at the offensive blue line, and buried his sixth of the playoffs on a breakaway for a 3-2 Allen lead.

The Nailers had a few chances to tie it up, but could not get one to go before Eric Roy flipped one into an empty net from deep in his own zone in the final minute to put it away.

Now that the series is guaranteed to go back to Allen, Texas, it sets up a pivotal game five to decide who heads there with the lead.

“We’ve got to regroup, we’ve got to come out (Saturday) night and win,” Christian said.  “We can go in their and win, we were up 7-1 in their rink, they’re not the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980’s we can go there and win.

“We have to take care of business here (first).”

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