WHEELING, W. Va. – TJ Hensick scored three goals to record a hat trick on Tuesday night, helping the Toledo Walleye secure a 5-4 win over the Wheeling Nailers in Game 3 of the Central Division Finals. Toledo took the 3-0 series lead with the victory to set up an opportunity to advance to the Western Conference Finals on Thursday.
Josh Dickinson and Patrick Curry also found the back of the net in the contest, and the Fish led by four in the second period. That lead provided a buffer for three straight Wheeling goals over the remainder of the contest, and the Fish held off the Nailers late to secure the win.
The Walleye built a solid first period lead with two goals on 11 shots to open the game. Josh Dickinson got on the board for the first time in the playoffs with an equal strength goal 3:40 after puck drop. Conlan Keenan assisted as the Walleye took the early 1-0 lead.
With 14:34 gone, Matt Alfaro entered the penalty box for Wheeling on a tripping minor, sending the Fish to the power play. Only nine seconds went by before TJ Hensick found the back of the net to give Toledo the 2-0 lead. The power play goal was Hensick’s fifth tally of the playoffs. Brandon Hawkins and Randy Gazzola added assists.
The Nailers opened the second period with an equal strength goal, cutting Toledo’s lead back to one. Cam Hausinger found the back of the net at the 1:17 mark as Matt Alvaro assisted. Hausinger’s goal was his eighth of the playoffs and first of the period.
Hensick built on his goal total in the middle, finding himself with a hat trick in the first half of the game alone. He scored twice in two minutes with goals at 5:23 and 7:22, putting the Walleye up by three. Brandon Hawkins and Josh Dickinson assisted on the first goal while Cam Clarke and Hawkins collected helpers on the second. Hensick’s goal total increased to seven in the playoffs with the tally.
The Fish quickly increased the lead to four as Patrick Curry scored from the right circle with 9:07 gone. Mitchell Heard assisted with a pass across, giving Curry his fourth goal of the playoffs, while Matt Berry added a secondary assist.
Following Curry’s goal, Wheeling made a goal change, bringing in Mitchell Weeks to replace Louis-Philip Guindon. The Nailers turned the tide in the second half of the period, adding a pair of goals to bring the gap back to two goals.
Matt Alfaro netted his second goal of the playoffs with 14:16 gone as Chris Ortiz and Patrick Watling collected the helpers. Then, Cam Hausinger added his second goal of the game and ninth of the playoffs at 16:15 on the power play as Matt Alfaro and Patrick Watling assisted.
Both teams scored three times on 13 shots in the second period, and the Walleye entered the third period with a 5-3 lead.
A Nailers penalty 45 seconds into the final period set the tone for a penalty-filled period as Shaw Boomhower headed to the penalty box for roughing. The Nailers earned the penalty kill to prevent the Fish from extending their lead.
With 9:46 gone, Brett McKenzie picked up a tripping minor, and Ryan Lowney joined him at 11:13 for hooking. Wheeling’s Matt Alfaro added a holding minor just four seconds later, and the Nailers briefly continued the power play before McKenzie exited the box at 11:46.
Wheeling and Toledo continued with 4-on-4 hockey before Sean Josling scored to bring the Nailers within one. Chris Ortiz and Cédric Desruisseaux assisted on the goal as Wheeling put itself within striking distance of the Walleye with 6:57 to play.
The Nailers picked up a power play opportunity at 15:10 as McKenzie returned to the penalty box for holding. Toledo made the successful penalty kill to return to full strength with 2:50 to play, and Wheeling emptied its net with 1:39 to play. The Walleye prevented the Nailers from scoring again in the final minutes to escape with a 5-4 victory, taking a commanding 3-0 series lead.
Toledo outshot Wheeling, 32-25, behind an 11-5 outburst in the first period. Each team tallied one power play goal, with Wheeling earning four chances while Toledo had three.
Billy Christopoulos made 21 saves on 25 shots to earn the win in net for the Walleye. Louis-Philip Guindon was credited with the loss, saving 11-of-16 shots before Mitchell Weeks replaced him in the second period. Weeks saved all 16 shots he faced.
The Walleye will look to sweep the series when they face off against the Nailers in Game 4 on Thursday, May 12. Puck drop from WesBanco Arena is set for 7:10 p.m.
- Toledo – TJ Hensick (three goals)
- Toledo – Josh Dickinson (goal, assist)
- Toledo – Brandon Hawkins (three assists)