Newfoundland wins in overtime for a second straight night, grabs 2-0 series lead on Walleye as ECHL final prepares to shift to Toledo
The Newfoundland Growlers were pounding the Toledo Walleye net Sunday night, firing 30 shots through three periods compared to the 18 mustered by the visitors.
The Growlers had their chances – boy, did they have chances – to reel in the Walleye, but to no avail. One-for-seven read the power play stat, the one goal represented by Scott Pooley’s third period marker with the extra man.
That’s after Toledo’s Kevin Tansey had picked up a match penalty and subsequent game misconduct following a vicious elbow to the head of Josh Kestner, knocking the Growlers forward and Saturday’s overtime hero from the game.
And here we were, heading to OT for a second straight night, with a nervous gathering of 5,689 inside Mile One Centre collectively gnawing on their fingernails.
Except for Growlers forward Zach O’Brien.
“I wouldn’t say it’s emotionally draining,” said O’Brien in response to the question. “This is fun. This is the team’s first year, and we’re in the finals. This is great.
“Yeah, we know games are going to be tight. But we’ve been a resilient group all year, and we know our conditioning is good so we’re okay with playing an extra period, if needed.”
The Growlers grabbed a 2-0 series lead in the ECHL Kelly Cup finals Sunday evening, beating the Walleye 2-1 on Pooley’s second goal of the game at 16:01 of overtime.
Hudson Elynuik made a nice play to keep the puck in at the blueline. The big Growlers forward fed the puck to Pooley, who was at the side of the net.
Rather that shoot, Pooley slipped a pass to Giorgio Estephan.
“I thought Gio was going to rip it in himself,” said Pooley, the Indiana native who starred for four years Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. “I don’t know if it hit a stick or what, but it bounced on my stick and I had the easy job of throwing it in the net.
“We got a bounce, and that’s what you need in playoffs.”
The Growlers, who beat the Walleye 4-3 in OT in Game 1 Friday night, head to northwestern Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie for Games 3, 4 and 5 starting Wednesday night. Game 4 is Friday followed by Saturday’s Game 5. If the series requires sixth and seventh games, they will be played back at Mile One Centre.
Following a scoreless first period, it was the Walleye who struck first Sunday. With Elynuik in the box for interference, Shane Berschbach, set up at the side of the Growlers’ net, converted a cross-ice pass from A.J. Denks past Michael Garteig for his team-tying seventh goal of the playoffs.
It stood that way until early in the third when the Growlers cashed in under the most unfortunate of circumstances –Kestner’s injury – with Pooley’s eighth goal from the top of the slot.
Brady Ferguson did the spadework on the play, gobbling up a loose puck, skating behind the Walleye net and feeding Pooley out front, who made no mistake in finally solving Pat Nagle, the 31-year-old veteran Toledo puckstop.
Growlers coach John Snowden wasn’t commenting on Kestner’s status after the game, but it seems unlikely the Growlers will have the Huntsville, Ala. native for Game 3, at least.
Kestner, who entered Sunday’s game second in goals-scored on the Growlers, appeared to have been knocked out on the hit.
He lay motionless on the ice for several minutes, and was tended to by medical personnel before he was removed via stretcher.
Kestner was reportedly alert afterwards as he was evaluated by team doctors inside Mile One.
“That was a scary hit, and for a guy to go down like that is never good,” O’Brien said. “Kess has been unbelievable for us all year, especially these last few games. We definitely wanted to pull that one out for him.”
While the Growlers lead the series 2-0, if there’s a fly in the ointment, it’s Newfoundland’s power play which sits one-for-eight in the finals (Newfoundland was zero-for-one Saturday in a game that featured only four minors).
“We’re definitely going to look at the power play clips and figure out what we need to do next game,” O’Brien said. “Special teams are so important in the playoffs, and we need to clean it up a little bit.”
O’Brien had a glorious opportunity to win it in the dying seconds of the third period, but fanned on his shot. Then, in overtime, the slick Growlers forward did a good job to weave his way in the slot, only to have Walleye goalie Pat Nagle make a fine pad save.
“That happens,” shrugged the playoffs’ leading goal-getter with 15. “I usually put those in, but I’m sure the next one will work out better.”
That could come as early as Wednesday, in the 10-year-old, 8,000-seat Huntington Centre, where the Growlers will be visiting for the first time.
“We know we’re going into a tough road environment, into a hard place to play, but at the same time,” Pooley said, “I think we’ve been a really good road team. And if get to our game, I like our chances.”