TOLEDO, Ohio– After battling through a seven-game series to open the Kelly Cup playoffs, the Toledo Walleye and Wheeling Nailers will face off Friday night. That will begin a seven-game series in the ECHL Western Conference Central Division Finals. This will be the sixth postseason meeting between the two historic clubs, having met multiple times under both sets of team names (Toledo Storm and Walleye, Wheeling Thunderbirds and Nailers.) The then-named Storm beat the then Thunderbirds in the first two seasons in Wheeling in the 1993 and 1994 playoffs. Then, the Nailers beat the Storm in 1998 under current Washington Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette. The Storm beat the Nailers in a come-from-behind fashion in 2006. A Kyle Bonis shorthanded goal for the Walleye eliminated the Nailers in 2015.
Over the past five seasons, the Wheeling Nailers erased a miserable history winning three games in Fort Wayne to eliminate the Komets. Going into the series Wheeling was 4-21-1-0 in Fort Wayne over the last five years. For the Walleye, it was a back-and-forth series against the Cincinnati Cyclones culminating in a game seven triumph thanks largely to former Wheeling Nailers forward Brandon Hawkins’ hat trick.
Final Regular Season Records:
Toledo Walleye 49-19-2-2 102 points (1st Western Conference. 1st Central Division)
Wheeling Nailers 37-31-4-0 78 points (7th Western Conference, 3rd Central Division)
How They Got Here:
Toledo eliminated the Cincinnati Cyclones 4-3 in the Central Division Semifinals. At the same time, Wheeling also eliminated Fort Wayne 4-3.
Game 1 – Friday, May 6 – Wheeling at TOLEDO – 7:35 ET
Game 2 – Saturday, May 7 – Wheeling at TOLEDO – 7:35 ET
Game 3 – Tuesday, May 10 – Toledo at WHEELING – 7:10 ET
Game 4 – Thursday, May 12 – Toledo at WHEELING – 7:10 ET
Game 5 – Saturday, May 14 – Toledo at WHEELING – 7:10 ET (if necessary)
Game 6 – Monday, May 16 – Wheeling at TOLEDO – 7:35 ET (if necessary)
Game 7 – Tuesday, May 17 – Wheeling at TOLEDO – 7:35 ET (if necessary)
Season Series Recap:
The Nailers and Walleye met seven times in the regular season. In that span, the Nailers went 4-2-1 against the Walleye, the only team in the Central Division with a winning record against the fish in the regular season. Five of the seven games were decided by one goal, including a 3-2 Wheeling win on April 10th, the final regular-season game between the clubs.
Wheeling was led by Cam Hausinger and Tim Doherty with seven points each in the season series. Hausinger led the way and lit the lamp three times for the black and Vegas gold. Louis-Philip Guindon went 1-1-0 against Toledo as one of nine different goalies to see action between the team combined.
— Justin A. Cohn (@SportsiCohn) May 3, 2022
Toledo netminder Max Milosek also sported a 1-1-0 record, while Billy Christopoulos was saddled with a loss in his only appearance in the season series. Offensively it was TJ Hensick leading the way for the Walleye as he chipped in two goals along with seven helpers for nine points in the series. Matt Berry and Brett Boeing each accounted for four goals apiece.
How Toledo Wins:
For Toledo to emerge victorious in this series, they must control the play as they did in their opening series against Cincinnati. Wheeling is a fast team and loves to activate the defense in the offensive zone. If the Walleye control the pace of play and keep Wheeling from getting going in transition, they can beat the Nailers. Another key is to make Wheeling pay if they get into penalty trouble. Hawkins’ one-timer from the left faceoff dot is lethal, and a few goals from there would be a huge boost for Toledo. Hawkins and Hensick were difference-makers against the Cyclones and look to factor in against the Nailers.
TJ Hensick has been one of the best players for the Walleye all season long.
He's adding more evidence to that claim with a power-play goal from the slot.
— FPHCyclones (@FPHCyclones) April 28, 2022
Christopoulos will need to stay engaged and be willing to steal games if a potential breakdown occurs. He battled against Cyclones goaltender Michael Houser for a large part of the series and will rely on him again.
How Wheeling Wins:
Stay out of the box. Like the Komets, the Walleye have tremendous weapons and could use power plays to put a team like the Nailers on the ropes. Another key for Wheeling would be to eliminate costly turnovers on the blue line and the offensive side of the neutral zone that lead to goals for the opposition. Wheeling must play their game, get the puck deep, activate the defense, push the tempo, and put the Walleye on their heels with pace and shots. Wheeling must get more gritty play from players like Hausinger and Matthew Quercia (who scored the series winner in OT against the Komets), go into the dirty areas, and fight for goals. Guindon was also huge for Wheeling and must continue his hot play for the Nailers to succeed.
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