Royals Suffer Second Straight Slip Down the Stretch to Wheeling in Regular Season Finale, 4-2
Reading, PA - The Reading Royals (---------Loss, 36-25-6-4 = 82) of the ECHL, affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, were defeated by the Wheeling Nailers (Win, 37-26-5-4 = 83) of the ECHL, affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, 4-2, at Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania.
For the second straight night-and the third time this season-the Royals were unable to hold a third period lead against the Wheeling Nailers, who for the second straight game bagged a pair of power play goals-including the third period tie-breaking game winner-to close out Reading's 2015-16 regular season with back-to-back regulation losses, which served to drop the Royals to the eighth seed in the ECHL Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Reading battled back from an early deficit to take a 2-1 lead in the second period, but couldn't hold off the Nailers, who ran their record to 7-4-0-0 in the eleven game regular season series between the two teams. Reading goaltender Martin Ouellette, who was loaned to the Royals by the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League earlier in the day, made twenty-seven saves but had his six game personal win streak with the team snapped in the loss.
Wheeling capitalized on an early and lengthy (1:25) sequence of five-on-three when a series of perimeter passes set defenseman Mathew Maione for a one-time bullet from the high slot that rocketed over the left shoulder of Ouellette for his tenth of the year 5:39 into the first.
The Royals counter-punched on their first power play chance on the night. After a sequence of sustained controlled chaos in and around the Wheeling net, Reading regrouped and Cam Reid slipped a cross-ice pass to Yannick Tifu, who drilled a shot out of the right circle. Goaltender Casey DeSmith got a chunk of that shot, but the puck rebounded off his body and trickled across the goal line where a waiting Justin Crandall stuffed it home for his seventeenth of the year 11:33 into the first.
Reading took the team's lone lead (2-1) 4:11 into the second period, when Mike Pelech forced his way into the offensive zone and powered a shot off the end wall that rimmed through towards the right corner where a crashing Scott Tanski freed the puck up the wall, allowing Ian Watters to gain possession. Watters cut into the right circle, carried to the face-off dot, and uncorked a laser across the body of DeSmith for his seventh of the year.
Wheeling turned the tide 5:55 into the final frame of regulation with the game-tying goal (2-2). The Nailers' Shane Bakker forced the puck towards his teammate Jordon Kwas, who was planted at the offensive blue line directly at the left wing wall. A Reading defender had a chance to swipe the pass away, but missed, allowing Kwas to take control of the puck and bee-line directly to the front of the Royals' net, where he stuffed the puck behind Ouellette at the right pipe for ninth of the season.
A late game power play proved to be just what Wheeling needed to put the nail in the Royals' collective coffin 11:50 into the final frame. Once again, it was Maione who was able to get the critical shot off-this one from the left point that came through a maze of traffic and appeared to catch Ouellette somewhat off-guard as it buzzed by low to the glove side for Maione's second of the game and eleventh of the year.
The Royals pushed hard down the stretch, but couldn't find the equalizer despite getting several Grade-A looks; and the Nailers tacked on an empty netter by Cody Wydo with just 7.3 seconds left to send the Royals to the 2016 playoffs on a decided down note in front of 6688 at Santander Arena.
The Royals next head to the Kelly Cup Playoffs where the team will meet the Toledo Walleye in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals beginning this Friday (April 15, 2016 @ 7:35 pm) at Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio. The first round playoff showdown can be heard live on CBS SportsRadio 1240 AM and 98.5 FM in Reading, Pennsylvania, starting with the pre-game warm-up show presented by Highmark Blue Shield at 7:05 pm Eastern Time. Friday's game will also be televised locally in Berks County, Pennsylvania, on BCTV courtesy of Boscov's Travel and Apple Vacations. Streaming audio is available free of charge on the Royals' website (follow the 'headset' icon); and streaming video is available on a pay-per-view basis through ECHL.TV.
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