Walleye hold off Cyclones to reach Western Conference Finals
A.J. Jenks scored the tying goal on the power play in Toledo's series-clinching win at Cincinnati. (Photo: Scott W. Grau)

TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Walleye advanced to the conference finals for the third time in five seasons, as they held on for a 2-1 victory over the Brabham Cup champion Cincinnati Cyclones that wrapped up a 4-1 series win on Saturday at U.S. Bank Arena.

A.J. Jenks scored on the power play to erase a one-goal deficit 3:19 into the second period, before Greg Wolfe earned first-star honors for the second time in the best-of-seven series by potting the game-winner just 23 ticks later. Pat Nagle slammed the door on Cincinnati as he matched his 36-save performance from Game 1, stopping all 15 shots he faced during the final frame to improve his postseason record to 8-3 with a 1.69 goals-against average and a 0.941 save percentage. 

The Walleye, who defeated the Cyclones three times in four nights to eliminate their intrastate rivals, will get some well-deserved rest before facing either the Tulsa Oilers or the Idaho Steelheads in the Western Conference Finals. Regardless of its opponent, Toledo will return to the Huntington Center to host Game 1 on Friday, May 10 at 7:35 p.m. followed by Game 2 on Sunday, May 12 at 5:15 p.m.

Despite killing off a 5-on-3 spanning 18 seconds late in the opening stanza, the Walleye found themselves trailing with 32.1 seconds remaining in the frame. DeVante Stephens gained the zone on the right wing and chipped the puck toward the near corner, where he flipped a backhanded attempt from below the right goal line that ricocheted off Nagle’s goal stick and found a gap between the Toledo netminder’s left pad and near post.

Jenks was whistled for his second minor penalty of the contest 44 seconds into the middle period, but redeemed himself when he restored parity with a power play goal moments later. Dylan Sadowy took a pass from Matt Register at the hash marks and wired a shot off the left post, but Jenks positioned himself in front of Ben Johnson at the other side of the crease and guided the rebound into an open net at the 3:19 mark.

The Walleye needed all of 23 seconds to seize a 2-1 lead. Michael Houser and Kurt Gosselin collided in the goal mouth as the latter attempted to clear Brenden Kotyk’s wrist shot from the right point, allowing Wolfe to race in from the slot and lift a bouncing puck into the top right corner for his team-best sixth goal of the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by Smile Direct Club.

With their season hanging in the balance, the Cyclones threw the kitchen sink at the visitors only to be repeatedly denied by Nagle. As Toledo’s slim lead remained intact, Nagle made a trio of vital right pad saves during the final three minutes of play, most notably when he got across to deny a Myles Powell one-timer from the left circle while Houser was heading to the bench to create a 6-on-5 advantage in skaters. Despite being outshot by a 37-27 margin in Game 5, the Walleye weathered the storm and earned their first series win over Cincinnati to the frustration of most of the 4,604 in attendance.

Toledo scored on one of its four power play opportunities and finished a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.

Three Stars:
1. Toledo – Greg Wolfe (game-winning goal)
2. Toledo – Pat Nagle (W, 36 saves)
3. Cincinnati – Michael Houser (L, 25 saves)