WHEELING - The Kelly Cup Playoffs are still a possibility for the Wheeling Nailers. But after Friday night's 5-3 loss to the Toledo Walleye at WesBanco Arena, they are no longer within arm's reach.
The Walleye (32-23-9 - 73) took the first of three games in three nights between the two teams, the final two of which will be played in Ohio. The Nailers (27-25-11 - 65) trail Toledo by eight points in a battle for the Eastern Conference's final playoff position, but do have a game in hand.
''We looked at it as we've got to get two of the three wins this weekend,'' Nailers defenseman and alternate captain Zach Hansen said. ''We've got nine games left and we have to win out.
Wheeling’s Keven Veilleux (12) and Matt Germain (17) gather a loose puck.
''We've got to play a full 60 minutes because our lives are on the line right now.''
Wheeling fell behind 1-0 when Gleason Fournier's blast from the point beat Peter Delmas (33 saves).
The goal came 7:02 into the game, and the Nailers had to fight an uphill battle from that point forward.
Toledo1 1 3 - 5
Wheeling1 1 1 - 3
1st Period-1, Toledo, Fournier 1 (Coetzee, Martin), 7:02. 2, Wheeling, McNeill 2 (Crowder, Barton), 14:59. Penalties-Thorne Tol (fighting - major), 8:10; Tolles Whl (fighting - major), 8:10; Trottier Whl (hooking), 16:34; O'Neill Tol (tripping), 18:23.
2nd Period-3, Toledo, Martin 12 (Novak, O'Neill), 8:09. 4, Wheeling, Zurevinski 12 (Ross), 12:54. Penalties-Lampl Tol (interference, roughing), 1:31; Torquato Whl (double - roughing), 1:31; Parkes Tol (roughing), 2:24; McNeill Whl (roughing), 2:24; Veilleux Whl (slashing ), 3:02.
3rd Period-5, Toledo, Parkes 10 (Musitelli, Youds), 4:46 (PP). 6, Toledo, Lampl 6 (Rogers, Rowe), 9:42. 7, Wheeling, Veilleux 8 (Trottier), 16:20. 8, Toledo, Bogosian 12 (O'Neill, Rogers), 19:56 (EN). Penalties-McNeill Whl (high-sticking), 3:59; Bogosian Tol (roughing), 10:38; Barton Whl (slashing ), 10:38; Veilleux Whl (misconduct - unsportsmanlike conduct), 19:56.
Shots on Goal-Toledo 14-13-11-38. Wheeling 10-14-14-38.
Power-Play Opportunities-Toledo 1-3; Wheeling 0-1.
Goalies-Toledo, Simpson 14-12-2-3 (38 shots-35 saves). Wheeling, Delmas 15-9-0-4 (37 shots-33 saves).
Referee-Andy Thackaberry (22); Linesmen-Francis Trempe (85), Shaun Morgan (71).
''It's tough giving them a two-goal lead and battling back,'' Nailers coach Clark Donatelli said. ''I know they're playing hard, but they've got to play smarter.''
Defenseman Reid McNeill got the Nailers back to even with a slapshot from the right point that got past Toledo goalie Kent Simpson at 14:59 of the first. However, a bad line change put Wheeling in a hole again with 8:09 gone in the second.
Joey Martin finished the end of a tic-tac-toe play that included Travis Novak and Wes O'Neill, notching his 12th of the season.
''It can't happen,'' Donatelli said. ''We talk about our shift management all the time, and you've got to change them up when you've got a little bit in the tank.
''Why do the guys keep doing it? The answer to the question, is because it's a developmental league.
''They have to learn to be pros. If they were very good at it, they'd be in the AHL.''
Not four minutes later it was tied again as Scott Zurevinski threw a wrister from the half wall that found its way between the arm and glove of Simpson for his 12th.
But the Walleye answered with a power-play goal less than five minutes into the third, and Cody Lampl provided the dagger at 9:42 when he beat Delmas after a clean look from the right point. The Nailers wanted a tripping call as Keven Veilleux was upended behind the play. Donatelli was irate on the bench and Delmas smashed his stick off the cage and threw the handle wildly.
''You've got to play through it,'' Hansen said.
Just when it looked as though it was out of reach, Jordy Trottier broke into the Toledo zone and found a trailing Veilleux who beat two defenders and whistled his eighth into the back of the net to make it a one-goal game with 3:40 remaining.
''I came across and was late on a shift, to tell the truth,'' Trottier said. ''I pulled the 'D' over and Keven yelled for the puck.
''I didn't even look, I just threw it to his voice and he did all the work.''
The Nailers kept pounding away, but the game ultimately ended on an empty-net goal by Aaron Bogosian with four seconds remaining.
''To not come out and play a full 60 minutes, it's just embarrassing,'' Hansen said. ''These are the games we live and play for.
''Our backs are against the wall and we need to win. It's as simple as that. No more excuses.''