The stage was set for the Wheeling Nailers to make up ground in the playoff race as the season gets closer and closer to the end, with Reading losing in overtime and Manchester getting upset by last place Elmira, but Wheeling was unable to take care of it’s own business and saw their deficit go from four to five points with just six games remaining.
“Very flat,” Nailers coach Jeff Christian said. “It’s disappointing, especially with what was going on around the league.
“We talked about hitting, we talked about getting our bumps, we talked about cycling, and we didn’t do any of it. I was begging them on the bench to just buy in and do it.
“You’ve got to have a will to win this time of the year and we did not see it tonight.”
With the game, which the Nailers (32-26-8) never led, deadlocked at 2-2 in the third period, rookie blueliner and leading point getter Kevin Schulze made a risky pass at the offensive blue line and turned the puck over to notorious Nailer killer Anthony Luciani for a breakaway with 7:31 to go, and he got a shot to just get past Nailers netminder Sean Maguire (25 saves) and just barely over the goal line for what ended up being the winner.
“I was just talking to our D, ‘get the pucks through, cycle the puck,’ and they’re doing Harlem Globetrotters at the blue line and give their best player a breakaway n a 2-2 game,” Christian said. “It’s like ‘what are you doing?’ It just boggles the mind.”
What stung just as bad for the Nailers was not being able to convert on any of their eight power play chances.
“We had chance after chance after chance,” the coach said of the power play. “We don’t get that done, I don’t know what that was.
“0/8 is ridiculous. I’m trying different set ups, different combinations, but it’s not that hard. Shoot the puck at the net and bang it in, that’s what (Idaho) did.
“Power play is all about sense of urgency, you’ve got to make plays, you get out there and get an opportunity to perform you’ve got to perform, you’ve got to execute, and we didn’t.”
Idaho (37-21-7) led 1-0 after one, a period during which they outshot the Nailers 13-6, on a4-on-4 goal by defenseman Brandon Anselmini at the 12:07 mark, going up under the bar with a quick wrist shot.
“We got outworked at times in the first period,” forward Garrett Meurs said. “We came out flat and they too it to us.
“We turned it around and I thought we played a great second and third, but that first period definitely hurt.”
Wheeling came out flying to start the second, recording the first seven shots of the frame, and found the equalizer with one of them, as Johnny Daniels, who nearly scored himself on a breakaway seconds prior, fed Kale Kerbashian in front to even it up at 1-1 at the 5:28 mark and give Kerbashian points in all six of his games with the team since being acquired from Allen at the deadline.
Idaho went back on top with a power play goal a little over seven minutes later, to take a 2-1 lead to the third.
Garrett Meurs again tied the game for Wheeling 4:04 into the final period, blasting his 23rd home after a Mike Krieg shot got blocked right to him, but after Luciani scored, Wheeling ran out of time seeking a third tying goal and watched the clock run out as they fell 3-2.
They wrap up the three game set with the Steelheads tonight at 7:05, now in a situation where they must win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“We’ve got to win, we’ve got to play our game,” Meurs said. “We’ll win playing our game.
“We’re going to come out flying, we have to now. Our backs are against the wall, has been for a while, we’ve just got to go out there and work as hard as we can.”
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