TOLEDO, Ohio – Josh Kestner scored his team-leading 19th goal of the season to restore parity with 6:46 left in regulation, before Troy Loggins and Josh Winquist decided matters in the eventual shootout to propel the Toledo Walleye to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Gladiators on Friday in front of a capacity crowd of 7,452 at the Huntington Center.
Trailing by a 2-1 margin after 40 minutes of play, the Walleye (22-12-3-1) roared back and outshot the Gladiators (17-21-1-1) 14-0 to begin the third period, but were still behind by one goal at the halfway mark of the frame. The home side finally made its breakthrough with 13:14 gone in the third, as Shane Berschbach sent a pass from the left half-boards to Kestner, who loaded up a wrister near the high slot that ended up in the top left corner. In total, Toledo outshot Atlanta 21-3 during the third period and 43-18 through regulation.
Although Atlanta notched a half-dozen shots in the extra session, excluding one opportunity that rang off the crossbar, Billy Christopoulos proved equal to the task as the game headed to a skills competition. It marked Toledo’s second consecutive shootout and third in its last five outings, after going the first 33 games of the season without a breakaway challenge.
With the Walleye electing to shoot first, Loggins gave the hosts an early lead when he faked a forehand shot in close, before moving to his backhand and sliding a shot along the ice and through between the pads of former BGSU standout Chris Nell. After the next three shooters were unable to convert, Winquist raced into the high slot and ripped a slapshot just inside the left post to give Toledo a crucial two points to open a four-game homestand.
Despite having played once in the previous 11 days, the Walleye scored on their first shot on goal 36 seconds into the contest. T.J. Hensick sent a pass from the right half-boards toward the slot to Branden Troock, who shifted to his backhand and guided a no-look feed through the goal mouth to Kyle Bonis for a one-timer over the left arm of Nell.
Chances were few and far between until Atlanta pulled even 13:09 into the opening stanza. After Samuel Asselin fanned on his intial one-timer near the right side of the crease, he quickly chipped his second effort past the glove of Christopoulos for his 17th goal of the campaign.
The Gladiators then went on to seize a 2-1 lead at the 16:50 mark, as Scott Conway gained the zone on the right wing and sent a shot along the ice that went between Blake Hillman’s legs at the right circle and snuck inside the near post. Atlanta held on to its slim advantage until the Walleye authored a ferocious comeback bid during the final period of regulation.
Both sides finished 0-for-1 on the power play. Christopoulos turned away 22-of-24 shots to improve to 13-2-2 in his rookie season, while Nell earned third-star accolades after stopping 43-of-45.
What’s Next:The Walleye return to the Huntington Center on Saturday to battle the Fort Wayne Komets at 7:15 p.m., before wrapping up a stretch of three home games in three days against their Central Division rivals on Sunday at 5:15 p.m.
Three Stars:1. Toledo - Troy Loggins (shootout goal)2. Toledo - Josh Kestner (game-tying goal)3. Atlanta - Chris Nell (SOL, 43 saves)