Walleye fall just short in first trip to Kelly Cup Finals

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland – The Toledo Walleye scored twice during the third period in a last-gasp effort to extend the Kelly Cup Finals presented by Smile Direct Club, but their historic season came to an end as the Newfoundland Growlers held on for a 4-3 victory to complete a 4-2 series win on Tuesday at Mile One Centre.

Trailing 4-1 on the scoresheet and 24-13 on the shot chart after 40 minutes, the Walleye authored a fierce comeback bid in the final frame and closed the deficit to two with 14:47 remaining. Although Ben Storm’s backhanded shot was blocked by the left pad of Michael Garteig, Hunter Smith drove to the net and lifted the rebound into the top right corner for his first postseason goal as a professional.

A.J. Jenks then closed the gap to 4-3 with 3:36 left in the contest, breaking a tie with Kyle Bonis for the most career Kelly Cup Playoff goals in a Walleye uniform in the process. Jenks had plenty of room to skate out of the right corner toward the right circle, where he wired a wrist shot into the top right corner. With its season on the line, Toledo yanked Pat Nagle for the extra attacker and created chaos in the offensive zone for most of the waning seconds of regulation, but were unable to level the score as Newfoundland held on to win the Kelly Cup in its inaugural campaign.

Nagle stymied Newfoundland’s attack for much of the opening period, but the hosts eventually grabbed a 1-0 lead with 1:29 left in the frame. With both teams skating four aside as Bryan Moore and James Melindy served matching roughing minors, Zach O’Brien stabbed the puck away from Tyler Spezia at the left circle and got behind the Toledo defense before sending a pass across the goal mouth to Matt Bradley for a one-timer into the top right corner.

The Growlers built a two-goal advantage 1:03 into the middle stanza. After Hudson Elyniuk made contact with Nagle in the blue paint, Josh Kestner corralled a loose puck in front and placed a wrist shot into the top right corner.

The Walleye bounced back 1:27 later to trim the gap to 2-1. Kevin Tansey pump-faked at the left point to get Derian Plouffe out of his shooting lane before ripping a slapshot past Garteig’s catching glove.  

Newfoundland regained the momentum and tallied a third goal at the 10:04 mark. Kestner gained the zone on the left wing and sent a pass thorough the high slot to Giorgio Estephan at the right circle for a wrister narrowly inside the left post.

Moments after Shane Berschbach’s breakaway attempt was caught and held by Garteig, Estephan added what proved to be the Kelly Cup-winning goal at 13:32. Newfoundland’s sole representative in the 2019 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic at the Huntington Center, Estephan worked his way to the high slot  at 4-on-4 and wristed a shot off the underside of the crossbar and in. Although the Walleye outshot the Growlers 13-3 over the last 20 minutes, two unanswered goals were insufficient as the hosts lifted the Kelly Cup in front of 6,329 spectators. 

Toledo and Newfoundland each finished 0-for-1 on the power play. Nagle and Garteig both recorded 23 saves.

Three Stars:
1. Newfoundland – Adam Pardy
2. Newfoundland – Giorgio Estephan (two goals, assist)
3. Newfoundland – Matt Bradley (goal)

Kevin Tansey scored Toledo's first goal in Game 6 of the Kelly Cup Finals (Photo: Scott W. Grau)