TULSA, Okla. – The Western Conference Finals features two teams and fanbases who are looking at their best shot for a championship in a generation. The Walleye have not hoisted a championship trophy since 1994, while it’s been since 1993 since the Tulsa Oilers have had their hands on league championship hardware. One of these two teams will skate for the ECHL’s ultimate prize after this round, one that’s expected to be physical and grinding but feature quite a bit of offense.
In 91 years of hockey in Tulsa, the Oilers are playing in the month of May for the first time ever. During each of the Oilers’ six playoff championships, the last of which came in 1992-93 in the Central Hockey League, the team finished play by the end of April.
On the other side, the Toledo Walleye have made the third round of the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, but have yet to break through to the Kelly Cup Final.
How They Got Here:
Tulsa Oilers: Defeated the Kansas City Mavericks 4-3
Toledo Walleye: Defeated the Fort Wayne Komets 4-2
Tulsa Oilers: Defeated the Idaho Steelheads 4-2
Toledo Walleye: Defeated the Cincinnati Cyclones 4-1
Season Series Recap:
The Oilers and Walleye split a pair of games during the regular season, with Toledo winning 6-4 on December 7th and the Oilers took away a 5-2 victory on February 1st.
Oilers captain Adam Pleskach led the Oilers in the season series with five points (3G, 2A) while Walleye defenseman Matt Register paced the Walleye with three points (2G, 1A).
Here are how the two teams stack up statistically through the first two rounds of the playoffs:
Series Schedule (Home teams in BOLD CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Fri., May 10 – Tulsa at TOLEDO 7:35 pm ET
Game 2 – Sun., May 12 -Tulsa at TOLEDO 5:15 pm ET
Game 3 – Wed., May 15 – Toledo at TULSA 7:05 pm CT
Game 4 – Fri., May 17 – Toledo at TULSA 7:05 pm CT
*Game 5 – Sat., May 18 – Toledo at TULSA 7:05 pm CT
*Game 6 – Mon., May 20 – Tulsa AT TOLEDO 7:35 pm ET
*Game 7 – Wed., May 22 – Toledo at TULSA 7:05 pm CT
Tulsa Oilers Keys to Success:
With a one-two punch of Dostie and Perfetto, the Oilers are loaded for bear against the Walleye and it goes without saying that they will be the key factors for Tulsa moving forward. Key for the team will be not allowing Toledo to mount any type of early lead, and if they do manage to get a lead, the attack must be sustained and without relaxation.
Defensively Tulsa is solid but they need to clear traffic in front of Williams. The second-year goaltender is up to the task but clearing the screen is crucial and a big guy like Mike McKee should be utilized to give Devin Williams a clear vision to make saves.
Turnovers need controlling. It’s an Achilles heel for any team, but there were a few instances in the first and second round where neutral and defensive zone giveaways resulted in soft goals for Oilers opponents.
Toledo Walleye Keys to Success:
Keep riding the hot goalie. Netminder Pat Nagle continues to effectively backstop the Walleye through tight and blowout games alike. With a record of 8-3-0, a 1.68 GAA, and a .941 save percentage, Nagle is heating up and only gets more focused as the Kelly Cup Playoffs roll on. Should the eight-year veteran continue his dialed-in ways, it will be very difficult for Tulsa to get pucks in the net and numbers in the win column.
Added depth with the young guns. Forwards Zach Gallant and David Pope played just four and seven games respectively for Toledo in the regular season. Now deep into the playoffs, they have both become proficient point producers for the Walleye. Gallant has balanced four goals with six assists in eleven games, while Pope has facilitated one goal and nine assists in eleven games. Both players are averaging a very respectable 0.91 points/game, most certainly becoming invaluable pieces for Toledo’s push into the Western Conference Final.
Toledo has proven that they can take on both the rough and tumble and the fast with finesse teams (Fort Wayne and Cincinnati, respectively) in this year’s postseason. Proving that they can adapt and adjust their gameplay accordingly, the Walleye must now be ready for the Oilers’ balanced attack of 34.55 shots for per game and physical presence of a power forward like McKee. Tulsa is also very adept at jumping out to an early lead and hanging onto it in close games, much like Toledo. The Walleye are 5-0-1 this postseason when scoring first, and are 4-0-1 in one-goal games. If they can get the jump on the Oilers and keep the game close, Toledo could be in very good shape to earn their first trip to the Kelly Cup Finals.