TOLEDO, Ohio – The Cincinnati Cyclones have played playoff-style hockey for weeks. Meanwhile, the Toledo Walleye, winners of this season’s Brabham Cup, made easy work of skating into the postseason. In game two of the Central Division semifinals last night, Cincinnati put that on display, outpacing and outskating the Walleye to a 3-2 regulation victory Saturday night.
For the Cyclones, the start of the game was less than ideal. First, they were without the services of goaltender Michael Houser, who was a game-time decision. Then, goaltender Sean Bonar allowed a goal just nine seconds into the game, the fastest goal against the Cyclones from the start of any period in franchise history.
It started as a straightforward faceoff win by TJ Hensick. Then, some run-of-the-mill passing from Randy Gazzola to Chris Martenet. Martenet fired the puck up ice, where Brandon Hawkins picked it up. After a couple of paces, Hawkins picked a shooting lane and quickly sent the puck past Bonar.
Just 9 seconds into the game, Toledo kicks off the scoring.
Brandon Hawkins finds an opening and easily sends the puck to the back of the net.
That's the fastest goal against the Cyclones in franchise history.
1-0 | 0:09 1st | #CINvsTOL pic.twitter.com/OQRHT4M2aa
— FPHCyclones (@FPHCyclones) April 23, 2022
For most of the first period, Toledo looked every bit the part of a number one seed and Brabham Cup winner. They stifled most chances and plays Cincinnati tried to draw up. When they did have offensive zone possession, they would pelt Bonar, sending the Cyclones scrambling.
Then, the Cyclones’ captain decided enough was enough. Jesse Schultz, skating up the left wall, connects with Justin Vaive, who was streaking down center ice, skated past Walleye defenseman Cam Clarke. Vaive got off the shot from down low, which goaltender Billy Christopoulos blocked. Though, the goalie gave up a juicy rebound, which Vaive instantly capitalized on, tying up the game at 6:12.
Vaive led by example for most of the game. While each team had their fair share of quality scoring chances, it was Vaive picking up the Cyclones and carrying them through the roughest parts of this game. At the mid-point of the first, he had already tallied one goal on three shots, with his second and third shots almost converting.
That tying goal helped Cincinnati settle into this game and gave them more control. Not that Toledo was scrambling by any means, but the Cyclones looked like more of a worthy competitor.
Then, the Walleye found themselves on the power play off a Sean Allen slashing call. After going 1-for-3 on the man advantage Friday night, it wasn’t surprising when Hawkins regained the lead just 39 seconds later at 14:49.
Cincinnati had enough. They battled and scraped out two goals in less than three minutes to gain their first and deciding lead of the night.
First came a shot by Louie Caporusso, which ended up being a juicy rebound towards a gaping hole by Christopoulos. Luc Brown was lying in wait and instantly knocked the puck in for the equalizer at 16:00. After being scratched the night before, he made a beautiful case for remaining on the roster moving forward.
Then, 2:57 later, Cincinnati claimed their first lead of the series. It’s like they knew Christopoulos was having rebound control issues, so they decided to capitalize on it. Off a Schultz shot, the puck bounced off Christopoulos, ricocheted back to Vaive’s skate, and flittered past the goal line. After a brief review for a kicking motion, it was ruled a good goal.
Cincinnati claims their first lead of the series. Schultz skates up the right wing for the shot. Then, the puck bounces in off Vaive's skate. After a quick review for kicking motion, it is ruled a good goal.
That's the 2nd for the captain tonight.
3-2 | 18:57 1st | #CINvsTOL pic.twitter.com/2YJXZfRwAx
— FPHCyclones (@FPHCyclones) April 24, 2022
Headed down the tunnels for intermission, Toledo was looking noticeably agitated. It almost seemed like they were scrambling for answers and a way to shut down the upstart Cyclones.
Cincinnati looked much more comfortable starting the second than they did the first. They were quick on the rush, exhibited stellar defense, and jumped on every opportunity to get deep into Toledo’s zone.
Then, at 8:34 of the second, the dagger aimed directly at Toledo. But, they caught a break.
Here's a better angle of the shot that was overturned and ruled no good.
3-2 | 8:34 2nd | #CINvsTOL pic.twitter.com/2YZoWmHfNX
— FPHCyclones (@FPHCyclones) April 24, 2022
Patrick Polino teed up a bouncing puck and swatted it past the Walleye goalie, which led to an instant officials’ meeting. There was no video review, just a chat that resulted in the goal being overturned.
After the no-goal call, the play was more gummed up. Honestly, not a lot happened, and no momentum could be established as Christopoulos kept opting to ice the puck at seemingly every opportunity.
A few penalties and lots of stoppage time later, the teams headed back down the tunnels. Toledo looked more frustrated and gassed than before, while Cinncinati was business-like and ready to defend their lead.
And defend their lead they did.
Toledo came out with a chip on their shoulder, which they let off by smacking the puck off the posts behind Bonar and starting scrums.
Though, it was Cincinnati who honestly had the advantage in trying to score goals. They pushed for an insurance goal in the first half of the period, while Toledo looked more lethargic and heavy-legged as each minute ticked by.
What an incredible individual effort by Louie Caporusso on this shift.
He fights to get the puck out of traffic and gets it to the boards. Then, he shoulders off a check and manages to get on a breakaway, but the puck just can't find twine.
3-2 | 12:19 3rd | #CINvsTOL pic.twitter.com/ozAyoHbqu2
— FPHCyclones (@FPHCyclones) April 24, 2022
For the remainder of the match, the Walleye struggled, much to the dismay of their home crowd. They were just no match for the Cyclones in the end, who dictated the speed and intensity for most of the game.
In fact, they limited Toledo to just six shots on net in the first 16:59 of the third period.
A final push for an equalizer came with 1:50 remaining in the game. Walleye head coach Dan Watson called his timeout and pulled his goalie. On the ice, the passes were slow and deliberate, thanks to Cyclones clogging up seemingly every possible lane between the Walleye and the net.
Then, a slashing penalty by Toledo’s Mitchell Heard with 31.5 seconds remaining sealed the victory for Cincinnati,
With the victory, this series is tied at one game each headed into Cincinnati.
Notes and Observations
If the Cyclones want to take the series lead, there are a couple of things they need to do:
- Win faceoffs, especially when Hensick is on the other side. Hensick would often win the faceoff and immediately dump the puck to Hawkins. Then, Hawkins would rip a one-timer right onto their goaltender. Want to limit goals and shots? Win more of those faceoffs.
- Just cover Hawkins better in general. He was, by far, the best player for the Walleye.
Dominic Franco appeared to have blocked a shot by Brett Boeing in the first. Throughout the game, he received attention from the training staff but remained on the bench. While he appeared to be alright in the game, it’s something to watch headed into game three on Monday.
This is a gut-check moment for the Walleye. They had a pretty easy season in terms of adversity and fighting to get into the playoffs. Meanwhile, as I said earlier, the Cyclones have been fighting for their collective playoff lives for weeks now. There’s something to be said for having that experience on your side to complete a playoff upset. 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning versus the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs ring a bell?
Cincinnati will be returning to the safe confines of U.S. Bank Arena, where they will be playing their first home playoff game in 1,087 days. It will be essential to keep the crowd engaged to keep momentum and rattle the Walleye.
This Kelly Cup Central Division Semifinal is now tied at one game apiece. Now, the series moves on the Cincinnati, where game three will take place Monday, April 25th, at 7:35 pm ET.
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