KALAMAZOO – The Kalamazoo Wings are moving on to the next round of the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs after defeating the Wheeling Nailers three games to one in their best-of-five first round set. Winning both games on home ice over the weekend, the K-Wings will now face the South Carolina Stingrays in a best-of-seven matchup that begins this Friday night at Wings Stadium. Game two will take place on Saturday night with both games beginning at 7:30 pm.
Knocking off the Nailers by a score of 5-1 on Friday, the K-Wings needed just one more win to knock Wheeling out of the playoffs for the second year in a row. Last year the K-Wings sent the Nailers packing in the Conference Finals.
Not having a game until Friday, the K-Wings will have plenty of time to rest and heal before the next round begins.
“We’ve still got some guys who are banged up already and that’s part of postseason hockey,” Head Coach Nick Bootland said. “It’s nice to get a couple days to regroup.”
One player who was especially excited about the K-Wings victory over the Nailers was defenseman Joe Tolles.
The K-Wings picked up Tolles after he was waived by the Nailers earlier this season. “It feels great,” he said. “It’s pretty bitter sweet for me. A couple guys over there said, ‘Good job, you deserve it.’ It was really exciting that we beat them.”
But to send a message to his former team was sweet revenge for Tolles. “They waived me in the middle of the season thinking I didn’t have enough to play there. So it’s nice to definitely put it in their face a little bit,” he continued.
Tolles saw limited action in the K-Wings win on Saturday, but the ice time he did have was pivotal to the team, according Bootland.
“Joe Tolles sat there (on the bench) for a period and a half. He’s the type of kid who would do anything to be a part of this and works really hard to be prepared,” Bootland said. “I shook his hand after the game and I said ‘hey, I know you only had two shifts, but you were effective for us.’”
Justin Taylor’s persistence paid off early in the first period after his initial shot was stopped by Nailers goaltender Patrick Killeen, but Taylor kept at it until the puck crossed the goal line.
“I could see it (the puck) wiggling around and the referee was thinking it was in the air or something,” Taylor said. “I just tried to put a little pressure on him and put my stick in there because I think he thought it might have dropped behind him and he’d end up letting it go, and it rolled off his leg and in the net. I think it was the linesman who actually called it a goal and saw it went in.”
Kory Karlander scored later in the period to give the K-Wings a 2-0 lead.
Sending a shot off the back of K-Wing net minder Riley Gill, the Nailers Chris Barton put the Nailers on the board late in the period, cutting the lead in half.
Regaining their two-goal advantage midway into the second period, Trent Daavettila swiped the puck near the K-Wings bench, passing it to Darryl Bootland. Bootland sent the puck to Dwight Helminen, who on a 2-on-1 rush scored the eventual game winner.
Barton scored again early in the third period, and while the K-Wings held on for the victory, the Nailers did not make it easy on them.
Outshooting the K-Wings 7-0 in the first seven minutes of the period, the Nailers were not going to go down without a fight.
“We were fortunate with some great goaltending and some unselfish play by blocking shots and paying a price, that we found a way to get it done,” Bootland said.
A close game such as this was viewed as a positive by Bootland.
“The fact that it was a one-goal game for such a long period of time is something that is good for us, to be able to play in those tight games and those tight situations. That’s something you take into the next series,” he said.
Wes O’Neill, team captain, said he was not surprised by the Nailers “never say die” attitude.
“You’ve got to expect it. Their season’s on the line. We’ve been through so much this year as a team, we’re resilient. We find a way to get it done, said O’Neill. “They might not always be pretty, we may not be the best-looking team in the league, but at least we win games and that’s all you can really count on. At the end of this game, we’re going on and they’re not.”
Gill had 28 saves on the night for the K-Wings while Killeen had 23. Both teams came up empty on the power play.