ESTERO, Fla. – Brandon Hawkins collected two goals and an assist and Randy Gazzola added two helpers as the Toledo Walleye cruised to a 4-1 victory in Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night.
The Walleye jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period and came within three minutes of a shutout in their first victory of the Kelly Cup Finals. Hawkins, John Albert, and Marcus Vela all contributed goals while Billy Christopoulos added 32 saves. With the win, the Walleye put themselves in position to tie the series in Game 4 on Friday night. Florida currently leads, 2-1.
The Walleye got on the board 11 minutes after puck drop as John Albert found the back of the net on the power play to give the Walleye the lead. Toledo got on the power play after Stefan Leblanc was called for interference at 10:33, setting up Albert’s goal 27 seconds later. Randy Gazzola and Brandon Hawkins recorded assists on the goal.
2:25 later, Hawkins extended the lead to two at equal strength as Gazzola passed the puck up from the right circle and found the back of the net from between the circles at 13:25. Hawkins collected his 14th goal during the playoffs, while Albert’s goal was his ninth.
With 18:24 gone, Jordan Sambrook was called for interference on the goalkeeper, sending Toledo back to the man advantage to finish out the period. The Walleye outshot the Everblades, 12-9, in the frame.
Near the end of an evenly matched second period, the Walleye tacked on another goal, this time coming shorthanded. Gordi Myer was called for delay of game at 17:13, sending Florida to the power play. At 18:08, Josh Dickinson stole the puck and passed ahead to Marcus Vela, who netted his fifth goal of the playoffs. The goal put Toledo in front, 3-0, heading into the final frame as the Walleye looked to gain their first win of the series.
The Walleye continued to stifle the Everblades in the third period, keeping Florida off the board as time ticked away. Down, 3-0, with 5:30 to play, the Everblades emptied their net to bring on an extra skater as they looked to get on the board.
At the 16:13 mark, Brandon Hawkins shot the puck down the ice and found the empty net to bring the Toledo lead to four. Butrus Ghafari and TJ Hensick added assists as Hawkins brought his goal total to 15 in the playoffs with his second tally of the night.
The Everblades responded with 17:01 gone, scoring their first goal of the game to cut the lead back to three. Levko Koper found the back of the net for the fourth time in the playoffs as John McCarron assisted. The goal spoiled a shutout bid for Billy Christopoulos with just 2:59 remaining in regulation.
At 17:17, Florida emptied its net again as the Everblades looked to further chip away at the Toledo lead. The Everblades took four more shots in the contest, but the Walleye maintained the lead to earn the 4-1 victory at Hertz Arena. With the win, the Walleye collected their first win of the series to pull within one game of the Everblades, 2-1.
The Everblades held a 33-29 shot advantage during the contest, outshooting the Walleye, 15-9, in the third period. The Walleye earned four power plays, scoring on one of those opportunities, while the Everblades came up empty on their lone man advantage. Toledo scored shorthanded on that Florida power play.
Billy Christopoulos saved all but one shot in a 32-save win for the Walleye. The victory brought his record to 13-4-2 in the playoffs. Cam Johnson recorded the loss for the Everblades, saving 25-of-28 shots in the contest.
The Walleye and Everblades will return to the ice on Friday, June 10 for Game 4 as Toledo looks to tie the series at two. Puck drop from Hertz Arena is set for 7:30 p.m.
- Toledo – Brandon Hawkins (two goals, assist)
- Toledo – Randy Gazzola (two assists)
- Florida – Levko Koper (goal)