By Shawn Rine
Cincinnati Enquirer Contributor
WHEELING, W.Va. – Home-ice advantage apparently means nothing in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Matt Syroczynski scored a pair of first-period power-play goals and Dustin Sproat added a shorthanded goal Wednesday night as the Cincinnati Cyclones evened their best-of-seven North Division semifinal with Wheeling with a 4-3 victory at WesBanco Arena.
Remarkably, the home team has lost all four games thus far, with Game 5 scheduled for 7:35 p.m. Friday in Wheeling and Game 6 set for Saturday at U.S. Bank Arena.
A chance to return home for a meaningful game is all the Cyclones could ask for after dropping the first two games of the series at home.
“Our main goal after losing the first two was to come down here and turn this thing into a best-of-three,” Cincinnati coach Chuck Weber said. “We know Wheeling’s got a great hockey team over there.
“It was a tough game, a physical game to the very end.”
Cincinnati has its special teams to thank for Wednesday’s victory. A penalty-killing unit that ranked 20th in the ECHL in the regular season stopped the Nailers on six attempts Wednesday night. And for good measure, the same group produced the back-breaking goal at 17:10 of the second period.
The puck eluded Wheeling’s Boomer Ewing near his own blue line with his team on the power play and looking to tie the score at 2. But the gaffe started a three-on-one Cyclones break that culminated with Brian O’Hanley waiting until the last second to backhand the puck in front to a charging Sproat, who notched his third goal of the series.
“The first two power plays, we were able to capitalize on the five-on-three and finally get an early lead in the series,” Weber said. “They got back into it to make it 2-1, and we were fortunate to get the shorthanded goal there. And that fourth goal turned out to be huge.”
Wheeling carried the play for most of the second period but scored just once when Tommy Goebel pushed a rebound past Cyclones goaltender Loic Lacasse at 1:11. The play was set up by defenseman Reid Cashman, who took a drop pass from Aaron Clarke in the slot and got the puck on net.
It appeared as though the Nailers had tied the score at 8:23 during a scrum in front of Lacasse in which all 10 players were in the vicinity of the crease. While Wheeling fans and even a few players thought the puck had crossed the line, referee Jean Hebert emphatically waved it off.
“I thought the play was pretty even, but they were able to capitalize on our mistakes,” Wheeling coach Greg Puhalski said.
The Nailers went on a power play 37 seconds into the game but were lackadaisical with the puck and didn’t come close to breaking open the game early. That was merely a sign of things to come for the home team.
Not long after, Cincinnati showed how it’s done. Captain Barret Ehgoetz fed Syroczynski in front from behind the goal line to the left of Wheeling goalie Curtis Darling. Syroczynski tapped in the puck for his third goal of the series – all on the power play. One minute and 13 seconds later, Syroczynski did it again as Cincinnati made Wheeling pay on both ends of a two-man advantage.
That was more than enough for Lacasse, who after dropping the opening game in the series has rebounded to win two straight. He stopped 28 of 31 shots after turning aside 30 of 33 in the Cyclones’ Game 3 victory.
“He has done a great job of giving us a chance to win hockey games,” Weber said. “That’s all you can ask out of your goalie. He’s made all the saves he’s supposed to make, and a few of the ones he wasn’t.”
The Nailers made it interesting with a pair of late Clarke goals, his second and third of the series. The one on the back end came shorthanded with 28 seconds remaining and Wheeling’s net empty.
“I was happy with the way we started, but not happy with the way we finished,” Weber said. “We can’t accept anything less than (winning Friday).
“It’s nice to win two of three, but we can’t accept anything less than winning all three games in this building. That’s been our mindset since we left Cincinnati.”