Toledo’s Landon Oslanski and Fort Wayne’s Cody Sol face off on the ice at the Huntington Center, one of many skirmishes in Sunday’s chippy affair. The Komets had won only once in their previous 12 games in Toledo. BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT
Rival Fort Wayne earned a rare win on the Walleye’s home ice on Sunday in what could serve as a preview of a highly anticipated, second-round playoff series.
The Komets, who were 0-4-0 against Toledo this season and 1-8-3 in their last 12 games at the Huntington Center, skated away with a 2-1 win.
Despite clinching the ECHL Central Division title on Saturday, the Walleye saw their losing streak extend to four games. With three games left in the regular season, Toledo (48-17-4) has clinched the division as second-place Fort Wayne (43-18-8) can not overtake the Walleye.
IN PICTURES: Fort Wayne 2, Walleye 1
The teams will have a rematch on Wednesday in Fort Wayne after a chippy affair in which the Komets finished with a 34-18 advantage in shots on goal on Sunday.
The Walleye entered the game with a 21-13-6 record all-time in the ECHL against the Komets, including the 2015 playoffs when Toledo won the division finals 4 games to 3. The teams could meet in the division finals again.
“It was a spirited game,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “There were a lot of highs and lows. I thought our guys battled through that. That’s their playoff roster. They came in here with all of their big guns firing. Our guys competed for 60 minutes.”
Komets forward Gabriel Desjardins scored the game-winning goal with 10:59 left in regulation. The Fort Wayne players erupted with exuberance in the visitor’s locker room afterward.
Fort Wayne took a 1-0 lead when former Walleye player Brett Perlini scored at 7:08 of the second period. But Toledo tied it a little more than two minutes later when defenseman Landon Oslanski scored a power-play goal as the Walleye scored on their first shot of the second period. Oslanksi scored on a well-placed shot that beat Komets goalie Pat Nagle (17 saves) over his right shoulder. Beau Schmitz and Alex Globke earned the assists.
Desjardins then skated around two Walleye players and finished the play with his 20th goal to give the Komets a 2-1 lead with 10:59 left in the third.
Walleye goalie Jake Paterson stopped 32 of 34 shots before a crowd of 6,837 at the Huntington Center.
“It was a tough one with Fort Wayne, a rival coming in,” Paterson said. “We want to clinch the league and we want to come out with two points, but I’m happy that our compete [level] was there. The guys were blocking shots. We’re still feeling good about the way we’re playing.”
The Walleye, who have 100 points, have now set their sights on winning the Brabham Cup. Toledo needs five points to clinch the regular-season championship outright.
“We still have a two-point lead with three games remaining, so it’s right there for us,” Watson said. “But we’ve got to get to work here. We have to get some wins. We have to get that extra goal. We have to find a way on Wednesday night.”
The Walleye have three games left in the regular-season with two on the road. They play at Indy on Friday.
The regular-season finale is next Saturday at home against Indy.
Toledo is slugging it out with Allen for the overall league title. The Americans, who have a record of 46-17-6 for 98 points, are on a 12-0-1 streak. Both teams have three games left. It would be the second Brabham Cup in the Walleye franchise’s eight-year history (2014-15).
The Walleye’s roster will be much different come Game 1 of the Kelly Cup playoffs. Several forwards, including Alden Hirschfeld, A.J. Jenks, and Kyle Bonis along with defenseman Nolan Zajac, are expected back. Toledo’s leading scorer, Shane Berschbach, was a healthy scratch on Sunday. Another key forward, Zach Nastasiuk, also was not in the lineup.
“Once we get our core group of guys back together … we’ll have great depth,” Watson said.
The first period was very physical and energetic despite both teams playing a third game in three days. The Walleye started the game leading 7-1 in shots, but the Komets finished the scoreless first with a 12-9, including eight on two power plays. A trio of Komets descended upon Toledo’s Globke in the Fort Wayne crease but no penalties were called. Evan Rankin was called for back-to-back penalties, moments after some rough play along boards. Watson said his team battled through “a lot of stuff.”
“There was a lot of missed calls behind the play,” Watson said. “There was stick work and dirty play. That’s the style they play. They try to get under our skin and try to send a message. Our guys gave it back to them. We didn’t let them get away with it. I appreciated how our guys handled that.”
Toledo will face rival Kalamazoo in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. The best-of-seven series will follow a 2-2-1-1-1 format. The first two games will be played at the Huntington Center on April 14 and 15. The two road games would be played at K-Zoo on April 18 and 19. Game 5 would be on April 21, if necessary. The last two games would be April 23 at Kalamazoo and on April 25 in Toledo.
Carter Sandlak of the Toledo Walleye akes control of the puck around the defense of Fort Wayne's Curtis Leonard. BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT