For the third time in their 23-year history in the ECHL, the Wheeling Nailers will play a seventh and deciding game. On Tuesday night, Zack Torquato stepped up with one of the largest performances in the North Division Semi-Final Series, lighting the lamp three times. Riley Brace chipped in with a shorthanded tally, while Riley Brace added a power play marker in a 5-2 Nailers victory over the Toledo Walleye at Huntington Center.
The Nailers got the first bounce of the game to go their way, as they opened the scoring at the 3:42 mark of the first period. Toledo goaltender Jeff Lerg swung the puck around the boards, where it was intercepted by Zack Torquato along the right wing wall. Torquato immediately let a shot go, which slid under Lerg, who slipped and fell on his way back to the crease.
The visitors added to their advantage in the second period, netting one goal while playing shorthanded, and another on the power play. For the second time in the series, Riley Brace was the player who scored with his squad down a man, as he entered the offensive zone with Morgan Ellis and Jarrett Burton. While being hooked from behind, Brace put the puck on his backhand, jamming in a shot. With 3:02 left in the frame, an alert play helped Wheeling to a three-goal lead. Eric Hartzell snapped a pass to Sahir Gill on the right side of the offensive blueline. With Lerg out retrieving his stick, Gill flipped a shot into the top-right corner of the cage.
Toledo attempted to push its way back in the third period, starting at the 7:02 mark, when Joe Stejskal took a pass from Tyler Barnes, and deposited a wrist shot from the top of the right circle. The Nailers kept their lead at two until 4:38 remained in regulation, when Torquato whacked in a loose puck in the crease for an insurance marker. The play began with Adam Krause’s high wrister from the left circle, which was juggled down for the rebound attempt. 57 seconds later, Barnes brought the home team back within two, but in the final minute of the tilt, Torquato completed his hat trick, as well as the 5-2 Wheeling win with an empty netter.
Eric Hartzell stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced, while also picking up an assist in the win for Wheeling. Jeff Lerg took the loss for Toledo, giving up four goals on 37 shots.
The Nailers and Walleye will decide the North Division Semi-Final Series on Wednesday night at 7:35 in game seven at Huntington Center.