ECHL: Toledo Walleye Face Uphill Climb As Series Shifts To Kansas City

ECHL: Toledo Walleye Face Uphill Climb As Series Shifts To Kansas City

The Kansas City Mavericks have home ice the rest of the Western Conference Finals after taking two of three from the Toledo Walleye on the road.

May 22, 2024 by Justin Cohn

I have to say, it’s been interesting to see how my inbox has looked over the last week. Because I reside in the Central Division – home base is Fort Wayne, Indiana – I hear often from Toledo Walleye fans and they were feeling supremely confident heading into the Western Conference Finals.

The things they touted – speed in transition play, opportunism, smarts – were accurate. But as I tried to tell them, exactly the things the Kansas City Mavericks excel at.

I think they’ve learned that now, their team down 2-1 in the best-of-7 series that is far from over.

Kansas City did what Kansas City does in the first two games of the wildly-formatted 3-4 series, winning 3-2 and 5-1.

Winning at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, is always an exceptionally difficult task because it’s the most intimidating atmosphere in the league. And the Walleye had also won 22 straight games before dropping Game 1, so full marks go to the Mavericks for their early success.

The Mavericks’ defense is typically stingy, but it did a particularly good job in the first two games of containing the Walleye’s stars, namely league MVP Brandon Hawkins and Trenton Bliss. There weren’t a ton of opportunities to unleash their own offense, but the Mavericks were opportunistic at those rare moments Toledo fell asleep and Kansas City would just pounce.

I still kind of feel like my series prediction – Mavericks in 7 – is going to be pretty accurate because Monday’s Game 3 was a lesson that you cannot ever count out the Walleye. Too potent. Even after losing Bliss and Orrin Centazzo to injuries, Toledo won 4-3 and it was a doozy with some really physical play to close the contest.

Toledo’s start to Game 3 was a little dicey, especially after Toledo goalie John Lethemon allowed a long-range goal to Nate Knoepke to tie it at 1. The Knoepke goal that tied it at 2 wasn’t Lethemon’s fault, though; Justin Nachbaur had a sweet setup pass.

But then Toledo’s Riley Sawchuk scored – he’s been terrific in the playoffs – and then it was Conlan Keenan’s turn. Toledo can only be contained – even by Kansas City – for so long. But the same holds true the other way. We haven’t seen Kansas City’s Patrick Curry, the MVP runner-up, get much room. Max Andreev, I presume, will break out at some point. And if Cade Borchardt returns from the injury suffered in Game 1, he’d be a dynamic addition.

We’ve got to discuss the goaltending, though, because it’s been a factor in this series. And remember, these are teams who have been rotating their goalies.

In Game 1, Kansas City’s Cale Morris stopped 24 of 26 shots and Lethemon 19 of 22. In Game 2, Kansas City’s Jack LaFontaine impressed with 39 saves on 40 shots and Toledo’s Jan Bednar stopped 21 of 24, giving up a couple of long-range shots he probably should have had. In Game 3, Lethemon won with 25 saves on 28 shots and was about even with Morris, who stopped 26 of 30 shots. Both teams allowed goals that were reviewed for goaltender interference, too, for some added drama during a back-and-forth game. There was also an empty net goal that was overturned because the Hawkins pass to set it up was played with a high stick.

So far, Kansas City’s goaltending has been better than Toledo’s. It’s going to have to stay that way for the Mavericks to hang on to this series lead, even if the rest of the games will be at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri, starting Friday. (The 3-4 format is because that building was booked up with commencement ceremonies.)

Toledo’s victory in Game 3, short-handed and using more physicality than usual, gives it a lot of momentum, so this series is going to continue to be drama filled. 

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Western Conference Finals Schedule And Results

Kansas City Mavericks (54-12-6) Vs. Toledo Walleye (48-14-9)

Game 1 - Kansas City 3, Toledo 2
Game 2 - Kansas City 5, Toledo 1
Game 3 - Toledo 4, Kansas City 3
Game 4 - Friday, May 24 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City
Game 5 - Saturday, May 25 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City
Game 6 - Monday, May 27 at 4:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City (If Necessary)
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 29 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City (If Necessary)

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