After a pair of rough road outings at Wheeling on Friday and Saturday, the Reading Royals were practically begging for the comforts of home, never mind that Hurricane Sandy soon would be bearing down on Berks County from its course in the Atlantic Ocean.
Having lost 7-3 in the opener and a 3-2 shootout decision less than 24 hours ago, the Toledo Walleye dealt the hosts another defeat, this one by a 4-2 count which dropped the Leos to 1-5-1 on the season.
“We had the momentum there in the second period, we were able to take a lead, but then we took a penalty on a power play and lost it,” said Royals head coach Larry Courville. “But unfortunately when you get two teams playing the third-in-three, both teams are tired and they came up with the win.”
Andrej Nestasil came through with the go-ahead and insurance goals in the third period for Toledo, which had bested Trenton, 5-1, on Saturday night and improved to 4-2-0 on the season. Wes O’Neill added a goal and assist, while Luke Glendening also hit the back of the net.
Kent Simpson was solid in the crease for the visitors, stopping 25-of-27 shots on a gloomy Sunday evening.
“It’s a tough thing to keep up your energy in the third of three straight games, but we brought it early in this one,” said Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci. “This one was a grind for sure, but we made enough plays to win it.”
Philipp Grubauer, demoted from Hershey of the American Hockey League after last night’s game, allowed three goals on 25 shots for the Royals, who must regroup heading into a home-and-home series with the rival Titans this coming Friday and Saturday.
Yannick Tifu and Brett Flemming lit the lamp for the beleaguered hosts.
After a strong middle period which saw the hosts stay firm during a two-man disadvantage, Nestrasil caught the Royals defense napping as the clock ascended from the three-minute mark, slipping into a seam and redirecting a perfect pass from Max Campbell for a 3-2 Toledo edge.
Feeling bolder with every shift as the hosts began to tire, Terry Broadhurst tried to solo his way from the right-wing side with just over five minutes to play, but Grubauer managed to get his stick out and poke the puck away as the Toledo captain cut into the crease.
Grubauer was eventually called out for an extra attacker with 2:05 to play and Campbell’s toss from the blue line hit the outside of the cage as the clock ticked under one minute to go, but a floater from center ice by Nestrasil sealed it with 21.5 ticks remaining.
Toledo struck first, just 4:22 in as Glendening made a move in the neutral zone past one Reading defender, cut from the right wing into the center and dipped past another, then ripped a shot high over Grubauer’s glove side.
Tifu evened the score with 3:35 gone in the second period, as an intended pass to teammate Patrick Wellar in the left faceoff circle kicked back right to him, and a one-timer rippled the net just under the crossbar.
The Royals took the lead at 7:16, when Flemming’s low shot from the right point near the boards managed to sail unmolested until it appeared to be deflected in front past Simpson, who had gone into the butterfly. The score was credited to the defenseman and it was 2-1.
It was tied on a fluke during a Toledo advantage at 12:48. O’Neill was able to gain control of the puck at the point, then cranked one from 40 feet that changed direction off a Royals defender en route and sailed by Grubauer.
The Royals’ legs seemed to get heavier after that, the momentum stolen and the atmosphere inside the Sovereign Center as foreboding as the impending weather.
“There was no quit (in the second period),” said Grubauer. “We came out tired at the start and in the third, but we’ve got to find a way to win these types of games.”
Notes: To offset the Grubauer move, the Bears recalled forward T.J. Syner from Reading, while Reading released backstop Nick Neidert….The Royals next face back-to-back-to-back weekend games from November 9-11, with three against Trenton, two of those at home…O’Neill snagged first star, Toledo defenseman Ben Youds got second star and Flemming was voted third star…Grubauer has yet to record a win in three starts between the ECHL and AHL this season…Attendance was 2,729.