Wheeling Leads Series 2-0
Nailers Beat Cincinnati 3-1

By Shawn Rine
Ohio Sports Editor
The Intelligencer & Wheeling News Register

CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Cyclones continued to play undisciplined hockey Friday night at U.S. Bank Arena. And due in part to just that, the Wheeling Nailers continued to dominate.

Curtis Darling stopped 34 of 35 shots and Doug Krantz and Jordan Morrison (pictured) scored power-play goals as Wheeling took a 2-0 lead in the Best-of-7 ECHL North Division semifinals with a 3-1 victory against the defending Kelly Cup champion Cyclones.

Game 3 is at 7:35 on Saturday at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, W.Va.

“I thought we even played a little better than we did (Thursday),” Nailers coach Greg Puhalski said. “It was a good effort by our team to stick together.”

The most impressive part of this two-game run to begin the Kelly Cup Playoffs has been the play of a much-maligned defensive unit. As a group it has taken a pounding this season, but has obviously taken its game to the next level, helping a club that needed help just to get into the playoffs move to within two victories of advancing to the second round.

“That’s what we have to do.” Puhalski said. “I know what we’ve got to do, and right now we’re doing a good job of doing it.

“(The Cyclones) are going to do whatever it is that they do, and I don’t give a rat’s (behind) what they do. We’ve got to do what we do.”

A penalty-filled first period ended in Wheeling’s favor. Krantz scored his first professional playoff goal when he ripped a slapshot from the point past Cincinnati goaltender Ryan Nie at 12:38.

“When you put the puck on net, the more chances you’re going to give yourself,” Puhalski said. “It wasn’t a hard shot; just a well-placed shot. We need contributions from some different people in our lineup.

“And that was big getting the first goal the last two nights.”

Both teams had excellent chances in the first 20 minutes, with the Nailers finishing1-for-4 on the power play, and the Cyclones 0 of 2.

It was more of the same early in the second as Wheeling struck again just 2:24 in on the power play. With the Cyclones’ Frederic St. Denis off for holding, Boomer Ewing blasted a shot wide from just inside the left circle, and the puck came out on the other side, right to Morrison who roofed his first of the series into the net.

Cincinnati had several chances to get back in it , but none better than a 2-on-1 that nearly turned into a 3-on-1 at the 15:59 mark of the second. But, Barret Ehgoetz fired it wide of Darling, who looks as though he’s gaining more confidence with each save.

“Curtis has been real solid in net for us, and that has been huge,” Puhalski said. “I know what he’s capable of. Right now, the way he’s played the last two games, that’s what he’s capable of.”

Wheeling was so effective that the Cyclones were booed off the ice at the end of the second period by the seventh-largest playoff crowd in franchise history.

Boomer Ewing pounded home a Billy Ryan rebound at the 13:50 mark of the third to make it 3-0. Meanwhile, Darling turned aside 13 third-period shots, allowing only a Matt Syroczynski power-play goal at 15:31.

Tempers flared numerous times late, as the frustration begins to set in for Cincinnati. For the most part, the Nailers just turned the other cheek.

“You’ve got to play smart,” Puhalski said. “The most important thing at this time of year is playing for each other, and playing for the hockey club. (It’s) not satisfying anybody’s ego or satisfying any fans.

“You’re playing for the hockey club.

“We’ve got to get a little rest here and prepare to do more battle.”