FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The Wheeling Nailers and Fort Wayne Komets faced off in a winner-take-all game seven on Tuesday, with a spot in the next round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs at stake.
The contest delivered every bit of the drama, as Wheeling’s Matthew Querica’s overtime goal won it for the Nailers to eliminate the defending champions in the first round.
The Komets were looking to complete the series comeback after dropping the first two games at home, while the Nailers were attempting to win their first playoff series since 2016 and eliminate any chance of a Komets Kelly Cup repeat.
The Nailers came out firing on all cylinders, knowing the importance of a quick start on the road, and firing the first four shots on goal at Samuel Harvey, who fought them all off. The Komets spoiled the Wheeling start when Mark Rassell took a wrist shot from the slot that beat Louis-Philip Guindon on his first shot faced to give the Komets the early lead in the first. Neither team would be able to break through for the rest of the period, despite numerous Nailer chances in the final minutes.
Early on in the second, Wheeling capitalized off of a Komet turnover, and Justin Almeida fired a shot past Harvey to tie the game at one. Fort Wayne retook the lead when Matt Alvaro squeezed a wrap-around through Guindon to put the Komets in front again. The resilient Nailers continued to answer the Komet tallies, as Sean Josling received a cross-crease from Tyler Drevitch to knot the game at two going into the final period of game seven.
Like the night before, neither team could find the back of the net in the third. Both teams had their fair share of chances, but both goaltenders stood their ground. Wheeling even had a double minor power play in the later stages of the third but could not convert. The series headed to overtime for the third time in the last four games, and six minutes in, Quercia found the loose puck and put it through a mountain of players and into the back of the net to send Wheeling to round two.
Twice in this game, the Nailers found themselves trailing, at 1-0 and 2-1, and every time they responded. Even after giving up a goal on the first shot faced, Wheeling didn’t get intimidated by the Fort Wayne crowd but instead continued to play their game and it paid off. Also, Wheeling was 0-2 in the series in overtime games coming into Tuesday, but they didn’t let that phase them, and as a result, they are heading to Toledo for the second round.
Guindon Rises To Occassion For Wheeling
He was a star in this series. The goaltender took out his former team, the Komets, winning all four games for his team. He stopped 38 shots tonight, and without him, it is unlikely that Wheeling moves on in this series. Guindon did have a few misplays from behind the net and gave up heavy rebounds, but at the end of the day, he willed his team to the next round.
In a game seven, many would expect the usual stars to be the key contributors for their teams, but tonight was not the case. Two of the top scorers in the regular season, Fort Wayne’s Will Graber (Also ECHL Most Valuable Player) and Wheeling’s Patrick Watling both came up empty on the scoring sheet and were a “minus-1”. Also, Cam Hausinger, who had a hat trick in the previous meeting disappeared with a “minus-2”. The teams relied on their depth to send their squads to the Central Division Finals, but it was the Nailers that prevailed in the end.
Wheeling will meet the top-seeded Toledo Walleye in the second round. The series will start on Friday and Saturday in Toledo before shifting to Wheeling for the next three meetings, and finishing it off in Toledo if necessary. The winner of this series will meet the Mountain Division champion for a chance at a Kelly Cup Finals berth.
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