TOLEDO, Ohio – Behind Winston Day Chief’s hat trick and a two-goal performance from Kevin Spinozzi, the Wheeling Nailers withstood a late comeback bid and claimed a 5-2 decision over the Toledo Walleye on Friday before a sold-out crowd of 8,301 at the Huntington Center.
Trailing 3-2 near the halfway point of the final frame, the Walleye (31-15-5-3) were unable to convert on three consecutive power play chances, the last of which resulted in Wheeling (26-24-5-1) potting two shorthanded, empty-net goals in an 18-second span. Jordan Ruby blocked 33-of-35 shots to garner third-star honors, while Pat Nagle turned aside 28-of-31 in defeat. Associate coach Andy Delmore took over behind the bench while head coach Dan Watson served a one-game suspension.
The Walleye and Nailers are 3-3 in the regular season series, with the road team winning every matchup this far. Toledo remains seated in second place in the Central Division standings, while Wheeling is three points behind Fort Wayne for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Wheeling captured the lead with the lone goal of the opening period. After his initial wrist shot from the high slot bounced off the underside of Nagle’s catching glove, Day Chief split the defense and buried his own rebound at the 7:58 mark.
The Walleye pulled even on first power play opportunity 1:50 into the middle stanza. Marcus Crawford sent a pass from the top of the left circle across to A.J. Jenks, who had plenty of time to unwind a wrist shot through Ruby’s five-hole for his 15th goal of the season. Back-to-back penalties later in the same period handed the Nailers a two-man advantage, prompting the visitors to burn their timeout with 8:17 remaining. Wheeling quickly reclaimed the lead, as Yushiroh Hirano’s pass from the left dot reached Spinozzi at the right circle for a one-timer into the top right corner with 7:34 to go.
The Nailers struck again on a 5-on-4 power play 1:11 later. Nagle blocked Johnny Austin’s wrister from the left point, but Day Chief was positioned in front to swat the rebound out of mid-air to give Wheeling a 3-1 advantage.
Toledo managed to trim its deficit in half with 1:38 to go in the second frame. Michael Moffat had his wrist shot from the right point blocked by Ruby’s right pad, but did pick up the primary assist in his professional debut when Dylan Sadowyescaped pressure in front and fired the rebound inside the left post.
The Walleye returned to the power play when Dane Birks was called for high-sticking with 2:28 to go in the third, and pulled Nagle to create a 6-on-4 advantage in skaters. However, the move backfired as Day Chief cleared the puck from his own zone into an open net to complete his hat trick with 2:02 on the clock. Spinozzi followed suit 18 ticks later to make it a 5-2 contest.
In all, Toledo finished 1-for-5 on the power play, while Wheeling found the net on 2-of-7 opportunities. What’s Next:The Walleye return to the Huntington Center on Saturday for a 7:15 p.m. puck drop against the Fort Wayne Komets.
Three Stars: 1. Wheeling – Winston Day Chief (hat trick)2. Wheeling – Kevin Spinozzi (two goals)3. Wheeling – Jordan Ruby (W, 33 saves)