WHEELING, W. Va. – Jordan Topping recorded his first professional hat trick as the Toledo Walleye earned a 5-3 victory over the Wheeling Nailers on Friday at WesBanco Arena.
Trailing 2-1 with fewer than nine minutes left in the middle period, the Walleye (39-22-6-3) rattled off four unanswered goals to mathematically eliminate the Nailers (31-30-6-3) from qualifying for the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by Smile Direct Club. In all, Toledo won each of its four visits to WesBanco Arena this season and finished 5-3 against Wheeling in head-to-head play.
Topping became the first Toledo skater to score three goals in a single game since Dylan Sadowy accomplished the feat on Feb. 17 versus Kalamazoo, while Randy Gazzola and Bryan Moore both tallied a pair of assists. Making his third consecutive start between the pipes, Trevor Gorsuch stopped 33-of-36 shots to improve his record to 2-1, while former Walleye netminder Jordan Ruby steered aside 33-of-38 in a losing cause.
The Walleye broke the deadlock 7:36 into the contest. After circling behind the Wheeling net, Tyler Spezia found Topping at the left edge of the right circle for a wrist shot that whizzed past Ruby’s catching glove.
Kevin Spinozzi answered for the Nailers near the halfway point of the frame. Gorsuch got a piece of his glove on Spinozzi’s effort, but the puck hopped over his left shoulder to knot the score at 1-1.
Renars Krastenbergs put the hosts in front with 11:15 gone in the second, but the Walleye recaptured the lead on back-to-back shots 18 seconds apart. On the power play, Gazzola’s slapshot from the point was blocked in the high slot by Topping, who moved to the backhand and batted a bouncing puck inside the right post for his second of the night at the 12:55 mark. Mike Moffat then held in a clearing attempt at the left point, skated to the near corner, and centered a pass toward the slot was one-timed by Hunter Smith into the top right corner to give the Walleye a 3-2 edge heading into the second intermission.
David Pope doubled Toledo’s lead on the man advantage 44 ticks into the final period, picking up his first goal in a Walleye uniform when his wrist shot from the top of the right circle deflected off Dan Fick’s right skate and between the pads of Ruby.
Entering play with a pair of two-goal outings, Topping completed his first pro hat trick with 12:44 left in regulation. The 21-year-old rookie spun way from Krastenbergs at the left half-wall before driving the net and flipping a backhanded shot into the top right corner for his 17th goal of the campaign.
With their playoff hopes increasingly bleak, the Nailers elected to pull Ruby with 7:23 remaining, and eventually capitalized on a 6-on-5 advantage in skaters as Winston Day Chief potted a consolation goal with 4:03 to play.
Toledo finished 2-for-5 on the power play, while Wheeling failed to score on two opportunities.
What’s Next:The Walleye return to the Huntington Center on Saturday for a 7:15 p.m. puck drop against the Brampton Beast. It will mark Toledo’s last home date until Games 1 and 2 of the Central Division Semifinals, which will take place on Friday and Saturday, April 12-13 against either Fort Wayne or Kalamazoo.
Three Stars:1. Toledo – Jordan Topping (hat trick)2. Toledo – Randy Gazzola (two assists)3. Wheeling – Winston Day Chief (goal)