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ECHL Playoff Game Night: 4-21-17

Kalamazoo Wings 2 at Toledo Walleye 3
Toledo leads series 3-2

F Brian Hart, KAL, 1-0-1, -1, 5 PIMS, 4 SOG
Playoff Totals: 5 GP, 3-1-4, -2, 5 PIMS, 15 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 33 GP, 6-5-11, -7, 6 PIMs, 71 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 33 GP, 3-4-7, E, 26 PIMs, 50 SOG

F Cameron Darcy, KAL, 1-0-1, -1, 0 PIMS, 3 SOG, *THIRD STAR*
Playoff Totals: 5 GP, 3-6-9, +1, 2 PIMS, 17 SOG
Season Totals (ECHL): 20 GP, 5-20-25, +11, 10 PIMs, 51 SOG
Season Totals (AHL): 34 GP, 3-4-7, -3, 14 PIMs, 40 SOG

Other Notables
G Nic Riopel, KAL, L, 59:40 MINS, 24/27
Playoff Totals: 4 GP, 2-2-0-0, 4.01 GAA, 0.849 SV%
Season Totals (ECHL): 32 GP, 18-12-0-1, 3.13 GAA, 0.899 SV%, 1 SO

Occasionally you just know if you post a game report right after the game, you'll just throw up. Such as the case after Friday night's heartbreaking road loss in Toledo for the K-Wings. After these two teams swapped 23 goals in the last 2 games, Game 5 of a 2-2 knotted series saw both squads buckle down and focus on keeping keeping pucks out of the net, and it served up a nail biter for the Kalamazoo faithful. After all, this series wasn't supposed to go down like this. A K-Wings team that struggled for a good part of the season was expected to just be a minor bump in the road for the Brabham Cup winning Toledo Walleye, the ECHL's best regular season team. Except someone forgot to tell the K-Wings. Through 4 games, Kalamazoo has given the Walleye all they can handle, and through it all shown tremendous poise. And so with Game 5 after both teams won back-to-backs at home, the teams returned to Toledo with a tall order for the K-Wings to take a game on the road, a must if Kalamazoo is to pull the upset and advance to the Central Division finals. They came close in Game 1, battling back from a 4-1 deficit to pressing for the equalizer with the clock ticking off the last seconds of the game.

But let's talk about Game 5 as heart wrenching as it may be. Bolt prospect forward Cameron Darcy broke the 0-0 deadlock late in a evenly-played first period when he one-timed a power play marker past Toledo netminder Jake Paterson for the early 1-0 lead. Both Paterson and Kalamazoo goalie Nick Riopel were spectacular in keeping the other team from getting a big 1st period lead, one of the hallmarks of the series thus far. Peter Schneider assisted on Darcy's power play goal, his 19th consecutive game to point, and there's little doubt that Darcy has figured into most of those points Schneider has racked up. Darcy has been such a dynamic playmaker for the K-Wings since joining the team from Syracuse with 20 games left in the regular season. In those 25 games, Darcy has 26 assists and 34 points, playing mostly with Schneider on both the power play and even strength. Darcy earned Third Star honors in this road loss, marking three times he's earned one of the three stars of the game during this series.

After the Walleye knotted the game at 1-1 midway through the 2nd period, fellow Bolt prospect forward Brian Hart picked up a loose rebound from a Tyler Biggs wrister and slipped it past Paterson for a 2-1 K-Wing lead. Hart seems so effective when he's playing that Tomas Holmstrom style game that earned him 11 goals for the Swamp Rabbits last season. It was Hart's third straight game in the series that he's scored, and his play in the series has certainly been a difference maker for a Kalamazoo team that needs contributions up and down the lineup if they are to advance past the Walleye. Hart also fought former Syracuse Cruncher Evan Rankin in the first period, reminding us that Hart has taken far fewer penalties this season for a player of his size. Welcome back, Mr. Hart, we've missed you.

In some respects, the heartbreak was telegraphed at the end of the 2nd period. With 35 seconds remaining, Rankin was involved in a goal mouth scramble that resulted in Tyson Spink getting the 2-2 equalizer past Riopel. Goals scored in the last minute of a period just can't happen. The third period was some of the best hockey of the series, as both team battled hard. Both teams killed of crucial penalties, and the Walleye and Jake Paterson managed to keep the K-Wings pressure at bay. That is until 23 seconds left in regulation, when A.J. Jenks chased down puck in the Kalamazoo zone and buried a short-side goal past Riopel for the win. Heartbreak. The kind that leaves you speechless and wanting to throw up.

The series shifts back to Kalamazoo Sunday afternoon, with the K-Wings facing elimination. They've been offensively prolific at home during the series, but need to play defense their road defense game. You simply cannot expect to put up a snowman on the Walleye again.