WHEELING — Wheeling hockey fans will have to wait until Friday for a chance to see the Nailers win the playoffs at home.
Wheeling fell in Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Playoff Central Division semifinal against Fort Wayne, 4-1, inside WesBanco Arena on Wednesday.
Despite the loss, Wheeling still holds the series advantage 2-1 going into Friday’s Game 4 at home starting at 7:10 p.m.
The Nailers took an early lead in Game 3 and were looking to build on that momentum when the penalties started piling up for the home team.
The Nailers took 11 penalties, including two 10-minute misconducts for a total of 46 penalty minutes.
The backbreaker was that team leader for goals and points, Patrick Watling, suffered one of those 10-minute misconducts and the Nailers struggled to recover.
“You can definitely see where officiating can change a game,” said Nailers coach Derek Army. “I thought in the first (Fort Wayne) pressed really hard. They came out as expected and LP (goalkeeper Louis-Philip Guindon) was great. We weathered the storm and went 1-0 up and all of a sudden we started to build momentum ourselves. This is where you take a penalty and it snowballs from there. I disagree – especially giving two 10s – especially Watling’s. I don’t even know if he was talking to the referee. Then, we get a 5 against 3 in the second period and our best scorer is not available. It was frustrating and we really felt like we were fighting an uphill battle.
Sam Houde and Watling scored the opening goal and Cam Hausinger buried a rebound in the back of the net to give Wheeling a 1-0 advantage in the first.
However, Fort Wayne outscored the Nailers 28-6 in the first period and scored three goals the rest of the period, including two on the power play.
Just as Wheeling saved a penalty, Anthony Petruzzelli equalized in front of the net.
Just over 3 minutes later, Willie Corrin fired a one-timer near the blue line that rocked the cage with 39 seconds left on the power play to give Fort Wayne a 2-1 cushion.
Less than 2 minutes after the first power-play goal, the Komets pocketed another, this one coming off Oliver Cooper’s stick from the top of the right circle with 50 seconds left in the frame.
“We certainly don’t want to give up 28 shots in the first half alone,” says the army. “The shots were around 11-6 in the 10th minute and we were starting to become our own. They shoot a lot of pucks. It is part of their identity. That’s where we got bogged down and they took the momentum away from us.
Mark Rassell put the finishing touch on the shorthanded Komets with a second-period backhand breakaway goal to wrap up the scoring.
Fort Wayne goaltender Samuel Harvey needed just 22 saves for the victory, while Guindon had 46 saves and suffered the loss.
“I thought they were hungry” says the army. “It was a desperate team. It’s a team of veterans and a well-trained hockey team. They were down 0-2 and we didn’t expect them to give us those games. They cast everything in the net and they lived around the net.
“I also thought that we strayed from our game plan and tried to be a little cute on some of our plays, but we still had chances on the power play in the second that could have turn the game in our favor and we missed those opportunities. .”