Minutes into double overtime, Toledo Walleye forward Tyler Barnes finally cut the tension and allowed an eruption of celebratory relief with a dramatic game-winning goal in a memorable playoff opener Friday night.
The Walleye kicked off the Kelly Cup postseason with a hard-fought 4-3 win in double overtime against a scrappy Indy Fuel team.
Toledo Walleye forward Tyler Barnes celebrates scoring the game winning goal in double overtime against the Indy Fuel in Game 1 of their ECHL playoff series Friday at the Huntington Center in downtown Toledo.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
Toledo took Game 1 of a best-of-7 Central Division semifinal series when Barnes tallied the winner 1 minute, 33 seconds into a tense second overtime. Barnes capped a quick rush on assists from Kyle Bonis and Simon Denis.
“That was incredible,” Barnes said. “I'm so happy for this team and this city. That's playoff hockey right there. It's perfect to get the first win like that.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Walleye 4, Fuel 3
Forward Christian Hilbrich also scored two goals before an increasingly antsy crowd of 7,023 at the Huntington Center. The top-seeded Walleye took a 1-0 lead in the series, with Game 2 set for 5:15 p.m. Sunday at the Huntington Center.
“That was my pro hockey [playoff] debut, and it didn't disappoint,” Hilbrich said. “It was so much fun. It was huge to be able to step up in big moments and winning at home in dramatic fashion.”
On the winner, Denis got the puck out of the Walleye end and up to Bonis to create a 3-on-2 breakaway. Bonis then passed the puck across the top of the slot to Barnes, who one-timed it home.
“You could feel the building and we drew on the energy from the crowd,” Barnes said.
The Walleye led 3-1 early in the third period, but the Fuel rallied with two unanswered goals to send it to overtime.
The teams combined for 91 shots.
“It's a game of will, grit, and determination,” Toledo coach Dan Watson said. “Barnes has scored a lot of big goals like that for us. So it's no surprise.”
Officials break up a fight between Toledo Walleye defender Jared Wilson and Indy Fuel forward Matt Rupert.
BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge
Indy rookie goaltender Etienne Marcoux squared off in a lengthy battle with Walleye veteran Pat Nagle, who led the ECHL in wins during the regular season. Marcoux finished with 41 saves, and Nagle had 43.
The teams emerged from an eventful first period tied at 1.
The Walleye grabbed the lead, as Hilbrich scored with 10:33 to go.
But Indy tied it less than two minutes later and grabbed the momentum. Matt Rupert worked his way through a crowd and beat Nagle with 8:43 remaining in the first.
Things escalated in a heartbeat with about three minutes left in the period. Indy's Garrett Clarke blasted Hilbrich into the boards with a huge hit. Hilbrich, who is 6-foot-7 and 228 pounds, did not see the oncoming collision and was out for the remainder of the period before returning to start the second.
Toledo's Connor Crisp instantly threw off his gloves and went after Clarke, tackling him to the ice. Crisp then punched Clarke as he attempted to get to his feet. Crisp was ejected from the game and could face a suspension. Clarke lay sprawled on the ice for several minutes with a facial injury before being helped to the bench.
“I don't want to comment until I see it on tape,” Watson said. “Certainly it was a head shot. I know the league will take a look at it.”
Clarke, who was issued a game misconduct for charging, had 259 penalty minutes in the regular season, the most among all ECHL defensemen. Crisp led the Walleye with 95 penalty minutes.
With nine minutes left in the period, Toledo led 11-5 in shots. But the Fuel outshot the Walleye 12-1 the rest of the period
Shane Berschbach almost scored on a wraparound moments into the second. But Marcoux made a diving save. Berschbach was robbed again on one timer at the game's halfway point after a quick pass from Dylan Sadowy. Marcoux then made a toe save on Brassard late in the second.
But Hilbrich scored his second of the game in the waning moments of a power play with 14:34 left in the second. Bonis and Barnes assisted on the goal as Hilbrich shoveled in a loose puck at the side of the Fuel net.
Nagle, who earned a spot on the All-ECHL second team, made three high-grade saves in the first two periods.
It stayed a one-goal Toledo lead until Bonis tallied a greasy goal to stake the Walleye to a 3-1 advantage 2:58 into the third. Bonis, who led the Walleye with 11 points against Indy during the regular-season series and also had two assists in this one, stood his ground in the slot with repeated swipes at the puck before he beat Marcoux.
Former Walleye forward Josh Shalla scored less than two minutes later as the Fuel pulled back within a goal with 15:35 to go in regulation.
Indy then tied with 8:12 left on a long shot by Brandon Anselmini through heavy traffic in front of Nagle.
“There is no quit in anybody,” Watson said. “It's a tough Indy team and we knew that coming in.”
Barnes almost gave Toledo a 4-3 lead, when he stole the puck to create his own solo breakaway. He made a move, but hit the post with 4:48 left.
In the scoreless first overtime, Indy almost won it on its first shot but Nagle squeezed his pads to stop the puck on Darin Dziurzynski's shot.
The Walleye countered with their best chance of the first extra period as the puck bounced around in front of the Fuel net. Indy then came right back with good pressure.
Nagle then stoned Shalla's one-timer with 8:11 remaining before Toledo's Jared Wilson was stopped by Marcoux.
“This is huge because we didn't waste a really good performance from Pat Nagle,” Watson said. “Marcoux had an excellent game across the way as well. It was just that one break and we were fortunate.”
It was short of a capacity crowd at the downtown arena, which saw a franchise record 28 sellouts in the regular season. But the fans were fully engaged, creating a loud atmosphere before growing nervous late.
The Walleye won the Western Conference regular-season title and went 8-1-0 against the Fuel, who qualified for the playoffs in the season finale. But five of the contests were one-goal games. It was the third consecutive game the teams had played that went past regulation.
FISH TALES: There were two moments of silence held before the game. One honored the victims of the tragic bus accident in involving the Humboldt junior hockey team. The other was for Tom Cox, who worked at the Huntington Center in a variety of capacities over the years.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.