TOLEDO, Ohio – Meeting in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season and fourth time in the last five years, the Toledo Walleye opened the best-of-seven Central Division Semifinals with a 3-2 win over the Fort Wayne Komets on Friday at the Huntington Center.
With the score knotted at 1-1 near the halfway mark of the third period, Bryan Moore and Greg Wolfe gave the Walleye a two-goal lead with goals 23 seconds apart. Fort Wayne responded by scoring on a 6-on-4 power play with 1:26 remaining in regulation, but the hosts captured Game 1 on the strength of Pat Nagle’s 28-save performance.
Three-time defending Kelly Cup Champion Matt Register started the scoring for the Walleye 9:16 into the contest. Shortly after Moore’s charging minor expired, Dylan Sadowy gained the zone on the right wing and circled behind the Fort Wayne net before backhanding a pass to Register at the lower edge of the left circle for a one-timer inside the near post.
The Walleye looked to build on their lead, but drew iron twice in a goalless middle frame. While Jamie Schaafsma served the waning seconds of his tripping minor, Register teed up a shot from the left point that hit the inside of the left post with just over eight minutes left in the second. Barely a minute later, Ryan Obuchowski had his slapshot from the point ring off the crossbar and roll harmlessly toward the right half-boards.
Fort Wayne eventually pulled even with 15:18 to go in regulation. Register had his clearing attempt kept in at the right point by Cody Sol, who snapped a shot that was deflected in front by Jake Kamrass.
Toledo quickly jumped back in front courtesy of two goals in a 23-second span. Moore gained the zone and worked his way down to the lower part of the left circle before flicking a shot past Fucale’s blocker at the 9:26 mark. On an eventual 2-on-1, Zach Gallant was denied on his initial attempt from the left circle, but Wolfe raced in front to bury the rebound into an open net to stake the Walleye to a 3-1 lead.
The visitors called a timeout with 3:04 remaining and yanked Fucale to create a 6-on-5 advantage in skaters, which later became a 6-on-4 when A.J. Jenks was called for tripping with 1:48 left. Fort Wayne capitalized on the ensuing power play when Brady Shaw took a centering pass from Shawn Szydlowski and slid a shot between Nagle’s pads with 1:26 to go. With Fucale back on the bench for the extra skater, the Komets failed to create any more meaningful chances as the Walleye edged out a one-goal victory.
Fort Wayne finished 1-for-3 on the power play, while Toledo was unable to convert on four opportunities. Fucale stopped 35-of-38 shots in defeat.
The Walleye and Komets will return to the Huntington Center on Saturday for Game 2 of the Central Division Semifinals. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.
1. Toledo – Bryan Moore (goal)
2. Toledo – Pat Nagle (W, 28 saves)
3. Toledo – Matt Register (goal)