WHEELING, W.V. – The battle for the playoffs heated up in Wheeling Friday as the Nailers welcomed in Reading. The Royals lead over Wheeling in the North Division standing stood at three entering the contest. Wheeling held an eight-point edge on Worcester for the forth and final playoff spot in the division. This game had a playoff feel to it and, as it turned out, would not disappoint.
After a scoreless first and a kill by Reading, Wheeling was able to beat Dekanich at 6:46 of the second. Matt Abt fired a one-timer from Troy Josephs to put the hosts up 1-0.
As Reading was making a line change, the puck got fired along the front of the Royals bench. No Reading players touched it and Riley Bourbonnais picked it up along the left wall. He skated behind the net and passed out front to Danny Fick who flipped the puck up over Mark Dekanich’s right shoulder to give the Nailers a 2-0 lead just passed the halfway point of the game at 10:02.
However, Wheeling’s two-goal lead would only last 34 seconds. A turnover to Matt Willows on the right wall allowed the Reading forward to fire a shot over Adam Morrison’s glove side shoulder. The goal was unassisted at 10:36 of the second period.
Just passed the mid-point of the third, Reading tied the game on the powerplay. Nolan Zajac took a shot from the left point, Morrison was able to make the save. However, the rebound found its way to Matt Wilkins in the right slot. He fired it into the net as Morrison dived back across the net.
Reading was able to get the lead at 16:55 as Wilkins fired a bouncing puck past Morrison. Willows passed the puck to Wilkins who flipped it over Morrison’s shoulder to give the Royals their first and only lead of the night.
With time winding down, the Nailers pulled Morrison for the extra attacker. On the rush, Josephs gained the blue line and started into the zone. He left a drop pass for Garrett Meurs who took a wrist shot the Dekanich turned aside. Skating directly to the rebound was Freddie Tiffels, who fired the rebound home to tie the game at 3-3 with 1:19 remaining on the clock.
Halfway through the extra frame, Morrison passed the puck ahead to Reid Gardiner, who skated the puck into the offensive zone on the left side. He skated into Gretzky’s office, made an excellent spin move to shake the defender and passed the puck to Josephs in the left slot and Josephs fired home the one-timer to give the Nailers the 4-3 overtime win.
Reading finished the game 1-for-2 on the powerplay, Wheeling was unsuccessful on one opportunity with the man advantage. Morrison picked up his second straight win making 28 saves on 31 shots. Dekanich suffered the overtime defeat after turning aside 31 of 35.
With the win, the Nailers now have a 10-point lead on the Worcester Railers in the race for the final North Division playoff spot, and they are two points behind the Reading Royals for third in the division.
Both teams return to the ice tonight in Wheeling for a 7:05 pm faceoff.