WHEELING - The Wheeling Nailers were 20 minutes from putting a stranglehold on their Best-of-5 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series on Wednesday night at WesBanco Arena. The problem, though, is the Kalamazoo Wings were owners of that very same information.
Defensemen Mike Matczak and Sam Ftorek scored power-play goals less than 11 minutes apart in the third period, and Riley Gill made 29 saves, as Kalamazoo evened the series at a game apiece with a 4-2 victory. Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Saturday night, respectively, in Michigan. Game 5, if necessary, is scheduled for Monday.
''I felt we eased off a bit, unfortunately,'' Wheeling captain Paul Crowder said. ''When we play our game we can definitely take it to them.
DEFENSE — Wheeling goalie Patrick Killeen and defenseman Jordon Southorn protect the net during Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Kalamazoo in the ECHL playoffs at WesBanco Arena.
-- Joel Lovell
''We're (ticked) off. I think we're going to be playing with a little more edge this next game (and) it might be a good thing.''
After coming out aggressively in the first five periods of the series, the Nailers were put on their heels to begin the third. Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said he never considered calling a timeout because ''the guys are fresh and I didn't want to give (the Wings) a rest.''
Trailing 2-1, Kalamazoo, the second-ranked power play in the ECHL during the regular season, received the break it needed when Wheeling goaltender Patrick Killeen was whistled for interference on Dwight Helminen behind his own net.
Twenty-six seconds into that man advantage, Matczak skated down the slot, took a feed from Eric Kattelus and wristed his first of the postseason past Killeen, who made 21 stops.
Helminen then gave the Wings the lead for good when he scored a similar goal, finding himself alone in the slot for a wrist shot at 8:59.
A little less than 5 minutes later with Wheeling's Chris Barton in the box for high sticking, the Wings added a little insurance. Helminen set up shop behind the net and found Ftorek alone in the right circle for a one-timer that whizzed past Killeen.
''We've got to stay out of the penalty box,'' Donatelli said. ''They're 2-for-2 on the power play in the third period, so we made some mental mistakes and they capitalized.
''Stay out of the penalty box. That was the difference in the game.''
Wheeling had a golden opportunity early as Barton was awarded a penalty shot, but he skated in on Gill with what Donatelli said was a broken skate blade and rang a shot off the post.
Kalamazoo opened the scoring at 13:33 of the first period when Kory Karlander slipped a puck behind Killeen's skate and it somehow found it's way into the back of the net. That's how it remained until the 1:05 mark of the second.
Rookie Wheeling defenseman Philip Samuelsson's wrist shot from the point through traffic sailed past Gill. It was the first professional playoff goal in Samuelsson's career, and was assisted by Cody Chupp and Crowder.
The Nailers seemed to have it all going their way when defenseman Andrew Hotham beat Gill with a wrister from the left point for his second goal in as many games. Crowder and Chupp again added the helpers.
With their season on the line, however, the Wings responded.
''It's even now,'' Crowder said. ''We're going back to Kalamazoo and it's a Best-of 3.
''We've got to get the job done there now.''
Kalamazoo 1 0 3 - 4
Wheeling 0 2 0 - 2
1st Period-1, Kalamazoo, Karlander 1 (Sirota, Young), 13:33. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-2, Wheeling, Samuelsson 1 (Chupp, Crowder), 1:05. 3, Wheeling, Hotham 2 (Crowder, Chupp), 15:14. Penalties-Matczak Kal (tripping), 1:45; O'Neill Kal (holding), 5:28; Sirota Kal (slashing ), 6:44; Killeen Whl (slashing ), 6:44; Bushee Whl (tripping), 9:38.
3rd Period-4, Kalamazoo, Matczak 1 (Kattelus, Sirota), 3:27 (PP). 5, Kalamazoo, Helminen 1 (Daavettila, Ftorek), 8:59. 6, Kalamazoo, Ftorek 1 (Helminen, Daavettila), 14:02 (PP). Penalties-Killeen Whl (interference), 3:01; Barton Whl (high-sticking), 12:58.
Shots on Goal-Kalamazoo 6-10-9-25. Wheeling 11-13-7-31.
Power-Play Opportunities-Kalamazoo 2-3; Wheeling 0-2.
Goalies-Kalamazoo, Gill 1-1-0-0 (31 shots-29 saves). Wheeling, Killeen 1-1-0-0 (25 shots-21 saves).
Referee-Joe Sullivan (4); Linesmen-Jake Brenk (82), Mike Sheehan (90).