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Blackfish run out of gas in seventh game in 10 nights

TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Blackfish ended a grueling stretch of seven games in 10 nights with an 8-2 setback to the Wheeling Nailers on Saturday before a sold-out crowd of 8,117 at the Huntington Center.

Despite having six skaters on injured reserve and a half-dozen competing in the American Hockey League, the Blackfish showed a 4-2-1-0 record over their last seven contests to move to 23-8-3-0 overall. An already depleted squad dressed 10 forwards and five defensemen for the second consecutive night while blueliner Connor Schmidt served a two-game suspension.

Chances were limited in the opening period until the two sides combined for four goals in a 3:44 span. Alex Rauter finished off a 2-on-1 to open the scoring 8:18 into the contest, before lifting a sharp-angle shot into the top right corner at 10:50 to stake Wheeling (17-15-2-0) to a 2-0 lead. 

The Blackfish quickly trimmed the deficit in half, as T.J. Hensick notched his 13th goal of the campaign at the 11:41 mark. After Daniel Leavens’ effort from the left circle missed to the short side, Hensick played the carom at the lower part of the right circle and sent a shot through the five-hole of John Muse.

However, the visitors responded 11 seconds later when Johnny Austin redirected Mark Petaccio’s centering pass into the top left corner for his first professional goal.

Wheeling gained more breathing room with a pair of insurance tallies in the second stanza. Troy Josephs potted the Nailers’ fourth goal when he collected a loose puck in the Toledo zone and fired a wrist shot from the right circle between Kaden Fulcher’s left arm and body at 12:46. Wheeling added a power play goal later in the frame, as Yushiroh Hirano buried a snapshot from the top of the left circle at 19:00 to give the Nailers a 5-1 edge.

Pat Nagle replaced Fulcher to begin the third, but Renars Krastenbergs scored on Wheeling’s first shot of the period to open up a 6-1 cushion with 18:17 left in regulation. 

Muse denied a handful of point-blank chances as Wheeling padded its lead, but Toledo finally made another breakthrough with 13:19 remaining. Sean Fedorow picked up a weak clearing attempt at the left point, and eventually ripped a wrist shot into the top right corner for his first career ECHL goal. Cedric Lacroix added a shorthanded goal with 11:42 remaining, and Hirano netted his second power play marker of the night 1:53 later to seal an 8-2 decision.

Wheeling finished 2-for-6 on the power play while Toledo was unable to cash in on seven opportunities. Muse blocked 29-of-31 shots to collect third-star accolades, as Fulcher stopped 12-of-17 through the first 40 minutes before Nagle stopped 6-of-9 in relief.

What’s Next:
The Blackfish begin a four-road trip on Wednesday with three games in four nights against the Idaho Steelheads. Puck drop from CenturyLink Arena is scheduled for 9:10 p.m. ET.

Three Stars:
1. Wheeling – Troy Josephs (goal, three assists)
2. Wheeling – Alex Rauter (two goals)
3. Wheeling – John Muse (W, 29 saves)