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2022 Kelly Cup Playoffs

Toledo Breaks Out with Dominant Win Over Utah

Toledo Breaks Out with Dominant Win Over Utah

TOLEDO, Ohio — Squaring off in their second game in as many days, tempers flared between the Toledo Walleye and Utah Grizzlies on Saturday night. With 42 penalty minutes, including four fighting majors, there is definite dislike brewing between the two teams embattled in the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Western Conference Finals. However, the Toledo Walleye would emerge with the win, beating the Grizzlies 5-2 in front of a capacity crowd at the Huntington Center.

First Period

Toledo’s mission was to seek redemption off a controversial game one overtime loss. On the other hand, Utah was playing to take their second game in a row before the series moved to their home rink.

It was clear no one wanted to make the first mistake. Players skated slower than usual, waiting to see what the other team would do. There was no rush. No urgency. Both sides wanted to ease into this. After all, it’s only game two out of a best-of-seven series. There’s plenty of time for urgency later.

Later came at 4:02 of the first, when Walleye captain TJ Hensick slapped his stick off the boards in frustration. He had what looked to be a potential sure-fire goal, but Utah’s netminder, Trent Miner, made the save. It wasn’t the first shot from Hensick, and it wasn’t the first stolen goal from Miner, or his posts, either.

Overall, Toledo looked much more like the first-period dominant team that we are used to so far this postseason. While the shot clock didn’t reflect it early on, they held possession for most of the game. The Grizzlies defenders did a great job forcing shots wide initially and keeping shot numbers low.

Remember how we already discussed all the penalties and tempers? Well, that started early on, with Brett McKenzie leading the charge. Board battles, hard checks- he was part of it all.

Where Toledo excelled was making the most out of their limited chances early. Case in point, their first goal came on just their sixth shot. Benjamin Tardif was at the center point of the blue line. He backhand passed it to a waiting Charle-Edouard D’Astous, who sent the puck cross-ice to Luke Martin, who was primed for a heavy one-timer. The shot flew past Toledo goalie Billy Christopoulos for the 1-0 tally.

Just moments before that goal, Christopoulos had stopped a wraparound attempt, but the Grizzlies had sustained pressure, and it paid off.

Then, the posts behind Miner decided that they wanted to be part of the narrative. In total, they would take away three potential goals from Brandon Hawkins. Two of them came on consecutive chances for the Toledo forward.

That would signal the end of the first period with the Walleye trailing on the score bug but leading in shots, 13-7.

Second Period

Hensick started the first with a close-call scoring chance. He would start the second with a definitive tally to tie the game at just 2:26 into the middle stanza.

Hensick broke out from the pack and raced towards Miner. Somehow, he wrangled in a blistering pass from Hawkins. Tarun Fizer was in a prime position to force the turnover, but he got tangled in his skates and fell to the ice before he could break up the play.

Less than a minute later, Utah’s D’Astous got the parade to the penalty box started with a high-sticking call. Toledo would capitalize with Cam Clarke’s 2-1 notch, extending his points streak to five games.

Hawkin’s third post of the night sent the crowd into a frenzy as they thought they had secured the first multi-goal lead of the series. But, again, the post had its own agenda.

Utah saw Toledo’s struggles and capitalized, yet again. The puck had settled between Christopoulos’ skate and the net. Toledo’s Randy Gazzola saw that the puck was still in play and tried to free it. But, instead, he inadvertently passed it to Joey Colatarci, who evened up the game once again at 2-2 at 13:01.

Toledo would regain the lead for the second and final time from a Matt Berry power-play tally. He showed patience on the play, dangling at point-blank range until he went mid-crease for the shot. Utah had plenty of players on Hawkins, one of the usual weapons on the power play, which left Berry open. That tally was his first since a two-goal effort back in game three of the opening round against the Cincinnati Cyclones.

After 40 minutes, Toledo had the lead in both goals (3-2) and shots (31-14).

Third Period

Toledo came out with skates and sticks zeroed in on Miner. Brett Boeing created havoc not even 35 seconds into the final frame. He cycled behind Miner’s net and tried to score on a wraparound attempt, but Miner read the play perfectly.

That was just a preview of what Utah would be facing for the next 19:25. First, Mitchell Heard slowly gained offensive zone entry, waiting on McKenzie to catch up for an odd-man rush. After a long pass, McKenzie then quickly tapped the puck past Miner for the 4-2 lead at 1:24.

Then, the fights started. First, Martin knocked Berry to the ice and held him against the boards. Once Berry freed himself and got back to his feet, he was heated and ready for a partner. Fitze was the closest man available and had his helmet knocked off. The refs wanted to quell the anger, sending Berry to the box for roughing.

Toledo would kill each Utah penalty this night, going 0/3 on the night. Toledo, meanwhile, was 2/2 on the man advantage.

Marcus Vela would then give Toledo a three-goal lead at 7:48. In a furious race for the puck, he beat Martin and D’Astous, sending the crowd into hysterics.

In fact, the crowd had to be reminded not to throw things onto the ice, lest their team be punished with a penalty. Against a Utah team that was converting at 36.4% on the power play heading into game two, it was advice they obviously listened to.

The next combatants squared up 1:14 after the goal. Heard and Colatarci tangled after the Utah defenseman laid a massive hit on Heard on the half-wall. Colatarci immediately dropped his gloves, with Heard soon obliging. After Heard had the takedown, both skaters were sent to the box for five minutes.

Another fight broke out soon after, this time with Vela and Miles Gendron the participants. Like the other fight, it was action behind the play that devolved into a fight. The skaters traded punches before Vela dished a 10-point takedown.

That would signal the end of the action for the game. Toledo still pressured, though Utah was able to keep them at the three-goal lead. Utah accepted defeat, never pulling their goaltender for the extra skater.

The final score was 5-2, with Toledo also keeping the shot advantage 40-25.

Thoughts

On Saturday night, the crowd at Huntington Center tied a record set in Toledo’s game seven tilt against Cincinnati back on May 3rd. Great work, Toledo- all 8,600 of you! The crowd had spirit towels and was in fine voice all night long.

Utah forward Dakota Raabe went down with just 2:20 remaining. He was in quite a bit of discomfort, staying on his hands and knees for some time. There’s no update on his condition at this time. There was no apparent injury on the play, so it wasn’t clear what happened.

Utah gets home ice for the next two games. They are 5-2 in the playoffs at home and will be looking to continue that trend coming up.

Name a bigger ECHL rivalry than Hawkins and iron. I’ll wait.

Quote of the Night

Postgame, Walleye head coach Dan Watson was asked what worked so well on special teams play:

“You know, just trying to outwork the other team, making sure you know your assignments, and you do your responsibilities the best way that you can. I thought both special teams units obviously came through big tonight. They (Utah) beat us last night in overtime. We wanted to make sure that that didn’t happen again on a penalty kill. Then obviously, our power play. You know, when it’s clicking, it gives our guys confidence. Like every team, you play with confidence and you’re scoring goals. You’re feeling good about yourself getting chances, and so they did a great job for us.” – Watson

Up Next

The series will now shift to Utah, with game three on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:10 pm.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2022 season!

    Deana Weinheimer is a Managing Editor, podcast host, and covers the American Hockey League for Field Pass Hockey. Follow and interact with her on Twitter @FPHAHL.

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