ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland – The Toledo Walleye erased a three-goal, third period deficit to force overtime on Saturday at Mile One Centre, but Josh Kestner scored his second goal of the night 4:58 into the extra session to lift the Newfoundland Growlers to a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals presented by Smile Direct Club.
After the Walleye fell behind 3-0 on Kestner’s first goal 81 seconds into the third period, Chris Crane notched Toledo’s first goal in Kelly Cup Finals history when he unloaded a wrist shot from the high slot that sailed past the blocker of Michael Garteig with 13:32 to go in the frame.
Shane Berschbach scored on the power play 2:02 later, as he worked his way to the left circle and placed a wrist shot into the top left corner to cut the margin to 3-2, before Brenden Kotyk’s initial effort from the far half-boards hit a Growlers’ defenseman and rolled straight to Greg Wolfe at the right circle for a slapshot into the top right corner with 7:16 left in regulation. However, Newfoundland spoiled Toledo’s late rally near the five-minute mark of overtime when Kestner raced into the offensive zone, moved to his forehand and flipped a shot past Pat Nagle into the top right corner.
The Walleye will remain in Newfoundland for Game 2 on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. EDT, before the series shifts to Toledo for as many as three straight contests. More than 2,500 fans watched the series opener at Fifth Third Field, where the Walleye will screen every remaining road game on their 2,500-square-foot LED video board. Admission is free, and gates will open one hour prior to puck drop.
Toledo showed no signs of fatigue from its seven-game series against Tulsa, but trailed with four-tenths of a second remaining in the first period. After his initial shot from below the left circle was turned away by Nagle’s right pad, Hudson Elynuik retrieved his own rebound behind the Toledo net and looked to set up Josh Kestner in tight, but the centering pass rolled all the way to Zach O’Brien at the hash marks for a wrist shot into the top right corner.
The hosts opened up a 2-0 advantage with 10:14 left in the second stanza. Kestner intercepted a pass behind the Walleye goal and centered the puck in front to Elynuik, who tucked a shot underneath Nagle’s pads that crawled over the goalline.
Newfoundland padded its lead 1:21 into the third frame. Under pressure from Kevin Tansey at the right circle, Kestner fanned on his shot from the right circle, but momentum carried the puck through Nagle’s five-hole just before the Alabama-Huntsville product dislodged the net. Despite being outshot 10-9 during the last 20 minutes of regulation, the Walleye stormed back with three goals in a 6:16 span to send their inaugural Kelly Cup Finals tilt into sudden-death overtime.
Toledo finished 1-for-3 on the power play, while Newfoundland failed to score on its only opportunity. Garteig stopped 30-of-33 shots to earn his ECHL-best 13th victory of the 2019 Kelly Cup Playoffs presented by Smile Direct Club, as Nagle stopped 34-of-38 shots in defeat.
Three Stars:1. Newfoundland – Josh Kestner (two goals, assist)2. Newfoundland – Hudson Elynuik (goal, two assists)3. Toledo – Matt Register (two assists)