By Mark Schmetzer
Cincinnati Enquirer Contributor
CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Cyclones needed a win to clinch their best-of-seven East Coast Hockey League playoff series against Wheeling.
But Saturday night’s Game 6 was on the Cyclones’ home ice at U.S. Bank Arena, which meant they had their backs against the wall. The home team had lost each of the series first five games, which seemed to give the visiting Nailers the edge.
Wheeling had no trouble maintaining the streak. Reid Cashman scored on a slap shot for the Nailers 40 seconds into the game, and Wheeling went on to score four first-period goals on the way to 6-0 victory.
The Wheeling win gives the ECHL its first-ever playoff series in which the road team won each of the first six games.
“We played a much simpler game on the road,” coach Chuck Weber said. “We didn’t capitalize on our opportunities tonight.
“This was one of our worst performances of the year. I just told them to put this game behind them.”
The teams are scheduled to play Game 7 Monday at 7:30 p.m. at U.S. Bank Arena. If Cincinnati, the defending Kelly Cup champion and this season’s North Division winner, stays alive, it is scheduled to meet the winner of the other North Division semifinal between Elmira and Trenton Friday at U.S. Bank Arena.
Wheeling goaltender Curtis Darling (pictured) made 41 saves for the shutout win Saturday. He and the Nailers’ defense were so effective that the Cyclones were unable to take advantage when they had a two-man advantage for 1 minute, 21 seconds late in the second period.
“Darling was fantastic,” Weber said. “It’s almost like they had a seal on their goal. When you don’t capitalize on your five-on-threes, you don’t deserve to win.”
The Cyclones were 0-for-10 on power plays, while the Nailers scored three power-play goals.
Hopes among Cincinnati fans that the Cyclones could maintain the momentum they built with three wins in Wheeling were squashed when Cashman scored on a 30-foot slap shot that bounced off goalkeeper Loic Lacasse and fell into the goal. The goal was the defender’s first of the playoffs.
Wheeling made it 2-0 with 7:11 left in the period when forward Billy Ryan shed Cincinnati defender Brian O’Hanley in the slot and scored his third goal of the series.
Cashman scored his second goal 14 seconds into a two-man advantage with 2:52 left in the period, and forward Bryan Ewing tapped a short shot into a wide-open net for a power-play goal 45 seconds later to complete the four-goal period for Wheeling. It was the sixth time this season Cincinnati had allowed four goals in one period, and four of them happened against Wheeling.
The Nailers’ fourth goal prompted Cyclones coach Chuck Weber to replace Lacasse with Ryan Nie.
Wheeling forward Eric Johnson scored his first point of the playoffs with a shot on a breakaway with 4:13 left in the second period, and Chris Snavely added a power-play goal with 15:57 left in the game for the Nailers.