Walleye forward Tyson Spink takes a shot on Wings goalie Joel Martin during Game 2. The best-of-seven series returns to Toledo tied at 2. BLADE PHOTO
If a loss in Game 3 did not serve as a wake-up call for the Walleye, the setback in Game 4 should serve as a double shot of espresso.
Toledo yielded eight goals and allowed Kalamazoo to reset the clock in a Central Division semifinal. The Walleye won the first two games in the best-of-seven series to grab a seemingly comfortable lead, but Kalamazoo evened it up with consecutive wins at Wings Event Center.
Sloppy play by Toledo in its own end led to too many turnovers and many of the Wings’ goals in an 8-5 victory Wednesday.
“In the last six periods of hockey, we’ve probably only played [well] in parts of maybe two periods,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “We were turning pucks over, and when they get opportunities to score, they jumped on us.
“We need to get back to playing Toledo Walleye hockey. We have to possess the puck and play our style. We got away from that.”
Toledo looks to right the ship in Game 5, set for 7:35 p.m. today at the Huntington Center.
“We knew it would be a battle,” Watson said. “There’s no worry. There’s no panic. There’s no time for that.”
The top-seeded Walleye were the first team to earn a playoff berth and won the Brabham Cup for the best regular-season record. No. 4 seed Kalamazoo did not clinch a playoff spot until six games left in the regular season. In late December, the Wings had an 8-14-2 record, and a fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs was in doubt.
“Our team has been a resilient group all year,” Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland said.
Bootland said his team also stepped up to the challenge when facing the two-game hole in the series.
“We wanted to make sure we played our way, so we’re happy with the outcome of both games,” Bootland said. “We’ve responded to pressure.”
The teams have combined for 35 goals in the series. Toledo, which averages 4.25 goals per game, ranks second in the ECHL. Kalamazoo leads the league at 4.50 per contest.
The top five scorers in the postseason play for either Toledo or Kalamazoo. Walleye forward Kyle Bonis leads all scorers with nine points. Bonis — who has scored in every game — is tied with Kalamazoo’s Peter Schneider for the league lead with five goals.
Walleye rookie Tyson Spink is tied with Kalamazoo’s Cam Darcy for second in the league in scoring. Both forwards have eight points. Toledo’s Shane Berschbach is tied with Schneider for third with seven points.
Tyson Spink said it’s tough to pinpoint one thing that went wrong in Michigan.
“We weren’t ready for the puck drop both nights. We need to bring our entire thing up,” Tyson Spink said. “I’m extremely confident. We’re a confident group. There is not any doubt in that locker room even though it’s 2-2. It’s a clean slate now.”
Spink said the Walleye began to outwork the Wings in the third period, when Toledo scored three straight goals.
“We got back to the way we actually want to play hockey for Toledo,” he said. “We got back to the basics and outskated them. We dictated the pace.”
In their two wins, the Wings have pushed pucks deep in the Toledo end and behind the Walleye defensemen.
Forced to defend, Toledo committed turnovers and Kalamazoo was able to get pucks to the net. In Game 3, the Wings set a season-high with 53 shots on goal.
Watson said his players are not moving quickly enough and making good decisions. Watson said his team must limit turnovers and possess the puck.
“The next thing you know, they are on top of you,” Watson said. “We’ve gotten away from that out of frustration.”
Watson replaced No. 1 goaltender Jake Paterson with Jeff Lerg with seven minutes left in the first period in Game 4, when his team trailed 4-1. Toledo responded from a 6-2 deficit by closing within a goal in the third.
But Kalamazoo scored two late goals to seal it.
Bootland said his team appeared nervous during the first two games of the series and did not play its style.
“You can’t change who you are in the postseason,” Bootland said.
Watson said he is confident his team will get back to playing its style — uptempo and moving the pucks up the ice quickly to create instant offense.
“We are comfortable at home,” said Watson, whose team was 26-7-3 at the downtown arena during the regular season. “I’d like to see the jump and energy we had in the third period carry over to Friday night’s game. We have to overwhelm them.”
Tylor Spink, who ranks second among rookies in scoring with six points, said there’s no need to hit the panic button.
“The group of guys in that room is unbelievable,” he said. “We have no doubt we’re going to turn this around. It’s 2-2, and there’s a ton of hockey left. We’re not worried. We’ll be ready to go.”
Walleye vs. Kalamazoo
Game 1: Walleye 4, Kalamazoo 3
Game 2: Walleye 4, Kalamazoo 1
Game 3: Kalamazoo 6, Walleye 4
Game 4: Kalamazoo 8, Walleye 5 (Series tied 2-2)
Game 5: 7:35 p.m. today, at Toledo
Game 6: 3 p.m. Sunday, at Kalamazoo
Game 7: 7:35 p.m. Tuesday, at Toledo*
* if necessary
All games on BCSN and 1230 AM
Toledo Walleye forward Kyle Bonis has scored 5 goals and handed out 4 assists in the first four games of the playoff series with the Kalamazoo Wings. BLADE PHOTO