TOLEDO, Ohio – The Toledo Walleye kicked off the Western Conference Finals with a 6-2 victory over the Tulsa Oilers on Friday in front of a capacity crowd of 7,792 at the Huntington Center.
With the Walleye trailing 2-1 after 20 minutes, Trevor Hamilton scored twice during a lengthy second period before David Pope, Dylan Sadowy and Bryan Moore each added an insurance goal in the final frame to give the hosts a 1-0 series lead. Pat Nagle turned away 29-of-31 shots to gain third-star honors and boost his postseason record to 9-3 with a 1.71 goals-against average and a 0.941 save percentage.
Hamilton, who leads all defensemen with five goals in the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by Smile Direct Club, finished with three points (2-1-3) while Kevin Tansey contributed a goal and two assists. Having sold out five of their seven postseason tilts at the Huntington Center, the Walleye will host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Sunday at 5:15 p.m.
Toledo nearly broke through as the game approached the three-minute mark. A.J. Jenks loaded up a wrist shot from the high slot that was blocked by the left pad of Devin Williams, which set up Gazzola in front for a rebound that bounced off the Tulsa goaltender’s catching glove. Barely half a minute later, Sadowy raised his arms in celebration after he thought he lifted the Walleye to a 1-0 lead, but his wrister from the top of the right circle hit the inside of the left post before Williams dove with both arms to cover the loose puck near the right goal line.
Tansey would put the Walleye in front 5:26 into the contest. After taking a pass from Gazzola at the right corner, Shane Berschbach skated toward the near half-boards and set up Tansey at the point for a wrist shot that went through a screen and between Williams’ pads.
Tulsa responded 47 seconds later to knot the score at one apiece. Ryan Tesink gained the zone on the left wing and threw the puck toward the slot to Tanner Kaspick, who moved to his backhand and chipped a shot from the hash marks that trickled between Nagle’s right arm and body.
The Oilers’ top line did its only damage of the night with 2:56 to go in the opening period. With time and space at the lower part of the left circle, Alex Dostie circled toward the net and centered the puck to Stephen Perfetto for a one-timer into the top right corner.
Hamilton’s tripping minor 4:04 into the middle frame handed Tulsa its sole power play of the game, but he instantly redeemed himself when he restored parity with a stellar individual effort. Shortly after stepping out of the penalty box, Hamilton stayed onside when he took Greg Wolfe’s stretch pass at the Tulsa blue line and dipped his left shoulder before moving from backhand to forehand as he slid the puck past Williams’ left pad at the 6:12 mark.
The series opener was delayed with 5:33 remaining in the second when a pane of glass popped loose behind the Walleye net, and was again halted 22 ticks later when referee Chris Pontes was helped off the ice and did not return after a Tulsa clearing attempt ricocheted off his left shin.
Hamilton restored Toledo's one-goal edge on the power play with 2:13 left in the same stanza. Spezia used a burst of speed to gain the zone on the left wing and centered a puck that slowly reached Hamilton in the slot for a one-timer inside the left post.
The Walleye were in firm control of the momentum heading into the third period, and doubled their advantage at the 2:51 mark when Pope got behind Tulsa’s defense and placed a partial breakaway attempt into the top right corner, prompting the Oilers to replace Williams with Evan Fitzpatrick between the pipes.
Still ahead by a pair, Toledo put the game beyond any doubt with a pair of late insurance tallies. Chris Crane’s pass from the right half-boards reached Sadowy in the slot for a backhanded effort between Fitzpatrick’s right arm and body with 5:55 remaining to give the Walleye a commanding 5-2 lead. As the teams skated 4-on-4, Matt Register eased his way through the slot and found Spezia at the left goal line, who in turn threw the puck across the goal mouth to Moore to wrap up the scoring with 25.7 seconds left.
Toledo finished 1-for-2 on the power play. Williams was tagged with the loss after stopping 21-of-25 shots before Fitzpatrick stopped just 1-of-3 in just over 17 minutes of relief.
1. Toledo – Trevor Hamilton (two goals, assist)
2. Toledo – Kevin Tansey (goal, two assists)
3. Toledo – Pat Nagle (W, 29 saves)