By Mark Schmetzer
Cincinnati Enquirer Contributor
CINCINNATI – Even though Cincinnati was playing the Wheeling Nailers, it was the Cyclones who kept hammering.
Their persistence finally paid off. Matt Syroczynski sent Cincinnati to the second round of the ECHL playoffs with a goal 3:48 into the second sudden-death overtime to beat the Nailers 2-1 Monday at U.S. Bank Arena.
Syroczynski scored his team-high fifth playoff goal on a 10-foot shot off a rebound to set up the first game of the North Division finals Friday against the winner of the Elmira-Trenton series, which is scheduled to wrap up Tuesday.
“If we hadn’t won that game, that would have been one miserable locker room,” said Cyclones coach Chuck Weber, whose team won the second-longest game in franchise history. Cincinnati beat Peoria 4-3 11 minutes into the second overtime on April 5, 2003.
The shot was the 12th faced by Darling in the second overtime and the 51st of the game. He turned away 49 of them.
“The coaches kept preaching all series to keep it high and tight,” said Syroczynski, whose shot sailed high over Darling’s right shoulder. “That was the longest game of my professional career. We just kept battling.”
“We threw the kitchen sink, the stove and the microwave at him, and he kept kicking them out,” Weber said.
Cincinnati goalkeeper Loic Lacasse, who gave up four goals before being lifted in the first period of the Cyclones’ 6-0 loss Saturday, was as effective, stopping 27 of the 28 shots he faced.
The Cyclones, the North Division champions and the defending Kelly Cup champions, became the first home team to win in the series. For the first time in ECHL history, the visitors had won each of the first six games.
Three previous ECHL playoff seventh games had gone to overtime. Two went to double-overtime, both won by the home team.
Both defenses opened the game aggressively. The teams combined for just one shot on goal in the first 4:50, and Cincinnati needed 6:09 to log its first shot on goal.
The Cyclones defense was more effective than on Saturday, when Wheeling scored four first-period goals. The Nailers could manage only six shots on goal in the period.
Felix Petit, who didn’t make his professional debut until April 1, made it pay off. The forward poked a rebound of a Mark Santorelli shot between Darling’s skates to give the Cyclones a 1-0 lead with 10:15 left in the first period.
Petit’s goal, just the third of his professional career and second in the playoffs, gave the Cyclones their first lead in four games at U.S. Bank Arena and only their second 1-0 lead of the entire series.
The Nailers took advantage of a sloppy clearing attempt Lacasse to tie the game in the second period.
Jordan Morrison came up with the puck at the blue line and converted the turnover with an unassisted goal with 16:38 left in the period.
Darling and the Wheeling defense continued to frustrate the Cyclones in the third period. Cincinnati squeezed off 13 shots on goal to the Nailers’ six, but neither team could score.