Berschbach's last-minute goal gives Walleye 1-0 series lead
Shane Berschbach scored the game-winning goal with 55.2 seconds remaining in Toledo's 3-2 victory at Cincinnati in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals. (Photo: Scott W. Grau)

CINCINNATI Shane Berschbach snapped home a wrist shot from the lower part of the left circle with 55.2 seconds remaining to give the Toledo Walleye a 3-2 victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones on Thursday in Game 1 of the Central Division Finals at U.S. Bank Arena.

Despite being outshot by a near 2-to-1 ratio by the reigning Brabham Cup Champions, the Walleye preserved a 2-0 advantage until Ben Johnson spoiled Pat Nagle’s shutout bid by jamming a shot between the pads with 4:29 to play, before Judd Peterson capitalized on a 6-on-5 advantage in skaters when he chipped a rolling puck inside the left post with 1:48 left in regulation.  However, Toledo needed all of 53 seconds to jump back in front, as David Pope pounced on a loose puck near the left goal line and backhanded a centering pass to Berschbach at the left circle for a sharp wrister off the inside of the left post and past Michael Houser to stake the visitors to a 1-0 series lead.

After winning their third consecutive Kelly Cup Playoff game in the Queen City dating back to the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, the Walleye will return to the Huntington Center to host the next three games of the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday at 7:35 p.m., while Games 3 and 4 will take place on Wednesday, May 1 and Friday, May 3, respectively, with both set to begin at 7:35 p.m.

Chances were few and far between at both ends during the opening period, though A.J. Jenks lifted Toledo to a 1-0 edge with 49.3 seconds left in the frame. While Jenks set up a screen in front of Houser, he deflected Kevin Tansey’s wrist shot from the right point over the Cincinnati goaltender’s catching glove.

Alex Wideman was assessed a hooking minor at the 20-minute mark, and Dylan Sadowy doubled the visitors’ advantage 54 ticks into the ensuing power play. Two nights after eliminating the Fort Wayne Komets on the strength of a third-period hat trick, Sadowy fired a wrist shot from the right circle that trickled between Houser’s left arm and body for his team-best fifth goal of the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by Smile Direct Club.

Cincinnati continued to create chaos around the Toledo net during the final period and eventually broke through with 4:29 remaining. Trevor Hamilton knocked Johnson off the puck below the right goal line, but the latter put the Cyclones on the scoresheet when he took a centering pass from Justin Vaive and tucked a shot off the inside of Nagle’s right pad and in. 

With Houser pulled for the extra attacker, Peterson attempted to center the puck to Vasili Glotov in front, but evened the score himself when the puck pinballed back onto his stick at the lower edge of the left circle for a backhanded effort with 1:42 on the clock. Cincinnati’s frantic finish proved to be in vain as Berschbach tallied his third goal of the postseason in the last minute of regulation to stun the sparse crowd of 1,308. 

Toledo finished 1-for-2 on the power play, while Cincinnati failed to convert on three opportunities. Nagle earned the win and second-star honors after stopping 36-of-38 shots, as Houser blocked 17-of-20 in a losing cause.

Three Stars:
1. Toledo – Shane Berschbach (game-winning goal, assist)
2. Toledo – Pat Nagle (W, 36 saves)
3. Cincinnati – Judd Peterson (game-tying goal)