READING, PA- While the Wheeling Nailers clinched their spot in the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs one night earlier, they took the ice on Saturday night, hoping to finish as high as they could in the ECHL Standings. For the second consecutive night, Wheeling trailed at the start of the third period, but rallied for three goals, coming back to defeat the Reading Royals, 4-3 at Santander Arena. Mathew Maione scored twice for the Nailers, who will face the Florida Everblades in the first round of the postseason.
The first period was filled with action, as both teams found their way onto the scoreboard, one side had a goal waved off, and there were seven total power plays. Wheeling was the first team to strike, and it did so on a power play at the 5:39 mark. Anton Zlobin swirled around the left side of the offensive zone, before sliding a pass over to Mathew Maione at the top of the right circle. Maione stepped into a one-timer, powering it over Martin Ouellette’s glove. Reading responded with a power play goal of its own with 8:27 remaining. Cam Reid tossed a pass through the slot to Yannick Tifu, whose right circle shot was stopped. However, the rebound sat in the crease, where it was smacked in by Justin Crandall.
One goal was scored in the second period, and it went to the Royals, who took their first lead of the evening. The Nailers attempted a pass coming out of their own zone, but Ian Watters stole it away in the right circle. Watters immediately took advantage of his opportunity, scoring on a wrist shot into the left side of the cage.
For the second night in a row, the comeback kids were down but not out, rallying back against Reading in the third. At 5:55 of the stanza, Wheeling pulled even. Shane Bakker poked a puck through on the left side of the offensive zone to Jordan Kwas. Kwas drove his way to the front of the net, where he slipped a shot through Ouellette for the equalizer. With 8:50 remaining, the Nailers regained the lead with their fourth power play goal in two nights. Mathew Maione let a wrist shot go from the left point, which flew in for the go-ahead marker. Cody Wydo tacked on an empty netter with less than ten seconds left, putting the finishing touches on the 37th triumph of the season.
Casey DeSmith was Wheeling’s winning goaltender for the second night in a row, as he made 27 saves on 29 shots. Martin Ouellette took the loss for Reading, giving up three goals on 30 shots.
The Nailers will take on the Florida Everblades in the opening round of the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Wheeling will play home games on April 20th, 22nd, and 23rd (if necessary).