WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The Toledo Walleye cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Utah Grizzlies in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time since 2019.
After dropping the first game of the series in Toledo, the Walleye went on to win four straight games to win the series, four games to one. Brandon Hawkins scored the first and last goal of the contest to lead the Toledo offense while Billy Christopoulos made 32 saves in net for the Fish. The Walleye were presented with the Bruce Taylor Trophy as Western Conference Champions following the game and will move on to face the Florida Everblades in the finals.
The Walleye and Grizzlies skated out to an evenly matched first period, matching each other with a goal and nine shots each. Both goals came in the final four minutes of the frame, with Toledo posting a tally first as Brandon Hawkins found the back of the net on a 2-on-1 breakaway at the 16:13 mark. Josh Dickinson and Gordi Myer assisted as Hawkins collected his 12th goal of the playoffs.
The Walleye looked to enter the intermission with the lead but Mason Mannek, assisted by Zach Tsekos, put Utah on the board with just 19 seconds left in the first period to tie the game at one.
The Walleye continued a strong defensive performance in the second period, holding Utah scoreless in the frame despite going on the penalty kill for the third and fourth time in the game. Toledo faced two Utah power plays in the first period, holding the Grizzlies without a goal.
Utah took the man advantage with 9:25 gone in the period as Patrick Curry entered the penalty box for slashing. The Walleye prevented the Grizzlies from scoring to return to full strength at 11:25.
TJ Hensick broke the 1-1 tie at 15:25 on a shot from the right circle that gave the captain his tenth goal of the playoffs. Brandon Hawkins and Josh Dickinson assisted as Toledo took the 2-1 lead.
Marcus Vela was called for roughing at 17:03, leaving Toledo shorthanded again late in the second period, but the Walleye earned the penalty kill for the fourth time in the game to keep Utah off the board.
With 39 seconds remaining in the frame, Dylan Fitze was called for slashing for Utah to give Toledo its first power play of the game. Utah earned the penalty kill to return to full strength.
With 6:43 gone in the third period, Brett Boeing stole the puck from Utah at the Toledo blue line and found the back of the net on the other end to put the Walleye up by two. The goal, Boeing’s second of the playoffs, came unassisted.
The Grizzlies got one more power play opportunity at the 9:44 mark as Brett McKenzie picked up a tripping minor. Once again, the Walleye held Utah scoreless, bringing the Grizzlies to 0-for-5 on the power play in the contest.
At 13:55, Marcus Vela found the back of the net on a one-timer from the right circle to extend the lead to three. Brett McKenzie and Gordi Myer assisted as the Walleye inched closer to a victory at the Maverik Center.
The Grizzlies pulled Trent Miner to leave the net empty with 2:29 to play, looking to cut into Toledo’s lead. The Walleye defense kept Utah from scoring, and Brandon Hawkins capped of the contest with an empty net goal with four seconds to play. TJ Hensick and Josh Dickinson recorded assists as the Walleye punched their ticket to the Kelly Cup Finals with a 5-1 win in Utah.
Toledo edged Utah in shots, 34-33, while neither team scored on the power play in the contest. The Grizzlies had five opportunities with the man advantage while the Walleye had one.
Billy Christopoulos earned his fourth straight win in net for the Walleye, saving all but one shot in a 32-save performance. Trent Miner recorded the loss for the Grizzlies, stopping 29-of-33 shots.
The Walleye will open the Kelly Cup Finals against the Florida Everblades on Friday, June 3, in Toledo. Puck drop from the Huntington Center is set for 7:35 p.m.
- Toledo – Brandon Hawkins (two goals, assist)
- Toledo – Brett Boeing (goal)
- Toledo – Billy Christopoulos (W, 32 saves)