WHEELING, W. Va. – John Albert scored the game-winning goal early in the second period, Billy Christopoulos made 22 stops, and the Toledo Walleye won a defensive battle to sweep the Wheeling Nailers, 3-1, in Game 4 and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Eight Walleye players added a point to the scoresheet in a team effort as the Fish picked up their sixth straight win dating back to Game 6 of the opening series against the Cincinnati Cyclones. Toledo will face the Utah Grizzlies or Rapid City Rush in the Western Conference Finals.
Toledo stifled Wheeling in the opening period, holding the Nailers to just two shots in the first frame. Both teams played a clean period, with Josh Dickinson picking up the lone penalty of the frame just 3:57 in. The Walleye earned the successful penalty kill and returned to full strength just under six minutes after puck drop.
With 6:12 gone, Marcus Vela struck first with an equal strength goal to give the Walleye the lead. Brandon Hawkins and Ryan Lowney assisted on Vela’s first goal of the playoffs. Toledo took seven shots in the frame and held the 1-0 lead for the remainder of the period.
5:35 into the second period, the Fish extended their lead to two as Brett McKenzie found John Albert alone across the ice, who scored from the right circle for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Josh Maniscalco went to the penalty box for Wheeling with 6:31 gone on a delay of game penalty, sending the Walleye to the man advantage for the first time. The Walleye did not score on the power play, but Patrick Curry put the rebound of Cam Clarke’s shot into the net at the 8:34 mark to give Toledo the 3-0 lead. Mitchell Heard added a secondary assist as Curry tallied his fifth playoff goal.
Toledo maintained the three-goal lead until the final 31 seconds of the period, when Matt Alfaro netted the puck to put the Nailers on the board for the first time. Josh Maniscalco assisted as the Nailers won the shot battle, 13-9, in the middle frame.
The Walleye took the two-goal lead into the third period as they looked to close out the series and held onto it in a defensive third period that saw neither team score. Wheeling outshot Toledo, 8-4, in the frame while Mitchell Heard picked up the lone penalty of the period for cross-checking.
Heard entered the box at 14:14 to give the Nailers a late opportunity to close the gap. The Walleye returned to full strength with less than four minutes to play, forcing the Nailers to score at equal strength.
Mitchell Weeks skated to the bench to bring on an extra Wheeling skater with 17:10 gone as the Nailers looked to keep the series alive. The Toledo defense held Wheeling to just one shot to secure the 3-1 victory and the series sweep.
The Nailers took 23 shots to Toledo’s 20 in the contest while taking the man advantage twice to Toledo’s one opportunity. Neither team converted on the power play in Game 4.
Billy Christopoulos stopped all but one shot for the Walleye, making 22 saves en route to his eighth win of the playoffs and sixth straight. Mitchell Weeks recorded the loss for Wheeling, making 17 saves on 20 shots in 57:10 of ice time.
The Walleye will open the Western Conference Finals at home on Friday, May 20, against the winner of the Mountain Division Finals series between the Utah Grizzlies and Rapid City Rush. Puck drop from the Huntington Center is set for 7:35 p.m.
- Toledo – John Albert (game-winning goal)
- Toledo – Billy Christopoulos (W, 22 saves)
- Wheeling – Matt Alfaro (goal)