WHEELING - It's win or else tonight in Johnstown in order for the Wheeling Nailers to salvage what is quickly morphing into a lost weekend.
Saturday night at WesBanco Arena, the Nailers entered the third period with a 1-0 lead and with the way goaltender Patrick Killeen was playing, that seemed like it may have been enough. But the Kalamazoo Wings scratched out of a pair of goals to skate out of town with a 2-1 victory.
The Nailers (22-16-3 - 47) could have climbed to within two points of Atlantic Division-leading Elmira, which also lost Friday and Saturday. Instead, Wheeling enters tonight's game with Toledo down six.
Wheeling’s Nick Petersen is knocked down in front of the net during the Nailers’ loss to Kalamazoo on Saturday at WesBanco Arena.
''We're at home and we've got to take advantage of this and win the hockey games down the stretch,'' interim Wheeling coach Clark Donatelli said. ''We were in a good situation, at home, 20 (minutes) to go.
''All we have to do is go out and win the period and win the hockey game.''
Though the results were similar, Donatelli saw a stark difference in his team's play during the course of the two nights.
''(This) was different,'' he said. ''We were losing battles all over the ice and Killer kept us in it there in the second period.
''We weren't playing the body, we weren't physical enough and Kalamazoo is a good hockey club. We didn't play our type of game and started playing run-and-gun with them, and you can't play that way.''
Killeen was tremendous again and looked as though he would challenge for his third consecutive shutout. He stopped 26 of 28, many of the highly unbelievable variety. But the K-Wings (23-13-4 - 50) broke his shutout streak at 2:09:54 with a power-play goal at 12:37 of the third, and the winner is likely one Killeen would like to have back, a soft wrister from the left circle off the stick of Darryl Bootland.
''Hey, he played his heart out,'' Donatelli said of Killeen. ''He played a really good game - good enough for us to win.''
Wheeling jumped in front at 4:52 of the first when Nick Petersen corralled Zack Torquato's deflection of an Olivier Dame-Malka point shot and pounded home his second of the season for a power-play goal. The Nailers had several chances to make it a two-goal advantage, and none was better than Chris Barton's second-period breakaway that ended with him ringing the puck off the crossbar behind Wings goaltender Riley Gill.
Gill matched Killeen save-for-save, making 31 of them.
''This league has good goaltenders,'' Donatelli said. ''So every night we're going to see a good goaltender.
''We have to battle and get through it. We have to get in front of the net and get second and third chances. We've got to jump on it.''
Killeen made perhaps the save of the season in the second period, when he somehow made a sprawling pad save on Nick Sirota who patiently waited for a 2-on-1 pass from Bootland.
''A lot of reaching and trying to do it the easy way, and that's what happens - you come up short on the stick,'' Donatelli said. ''We're not a team that plays that way.
''We've got to play the body and get the puck deep. We can't be giving up 2-on-1s and we gave up four.''
The Nailers continually flirted with a Kalamazoo power play that entered the game clicking at a 22.2 percent clip, including 20.6 on the road. Finally the Wings burned them.
With Torquato in the box for hooking, Darren Archibald won a battle behind the net and got the puck to Dustin Cloutier who blew a one-timer past Killeen from the right circle for the equalizer, his third goal of the season.
''Our penalty kill has been really good as of late, but you can't take penalties and win hockey games,'' Donatelli said. ''It's that simple. It's just a matter of time.
''They've got the best power play in the league. We can't put ourselves behind the 8-ball and keep making the same mistakes.''
Bootland then won it with a wrist shot from the other side of the offensive zone for his 13th of the season, but first game-winner.
Wheeling had a number of chances late including a 6-on-4 power play with Killeen off for the extra attacker. The game ended with a pile up in front, the result of a patient shot from Andrew Hotham in the mid-slot and the Nailers unable to come up with the loose puck for a rebound attempt.
Kalamazoo0 0 2 - 2
Wheeling1 0 0 - 1
1st Period-1, Wheeling, Petersen (Torquato, Dame-Malka), 4:52 (PP). Penalties-Daavettila Kal (tripping), 3:39; Ross Whl (tripping), 12:10; Lombardi Whl (delay of game), 14:14.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-served by Cloutier Kal (bench - too many men), 13:09.
3rd Period-2, Kalamazoo, Cloutier 3 (Archibald, Taylor), 12:37 (PP). 3, Kalamazoo, Bootland 13 (Sirota), 17:28. Penalties-Dame-Malka Whl (roughing), 4:46; Torquato Whl (hooking), 10:53; Reid Kal (high-sticking), 18:41.
Shots on Goal-Kalamazoo 9-8-11-28. Wheeling 6-15-11-32.
Power-Play Opportunities-Kalamazoo 1 / 4; Wheeling 1 / 3.
Goalies-Kalamazoo, Gill 15-9-1-2 (32 shots-31 saves). Wheeling, Killeen 13-10-2-1 (28 shots-26 saves).
Referee-Ryan Murphy (10); Linesmen-Jim Scarpace (50), Zach Roberts (84).