Christopoulos, Early Goals Power Walleye over Thunder, 3-1
TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Walleye scored three first period goals and goaltender Billy Christopoulos did the rest, as the Walleye defeated the Wichita Thunder, 3-1. Christopoulos made 22 saves, shutting out the Thunder for 59 minutes before Michal Stinil broke the drought for Wichita. Three different players scored goals for Toledo and Matt Berry had two assists.
Toledo took command of this game early, scoring three first period goals. The first came 2:03 into the contest when Devon Paliani netted his third tally of the season. Wichita was trying to clear the puck out of their zone, but the clearing feed was intercepted by Brandon Schultz at the half boards. He quickly fed the puck into the slot to Paliani, who blasted a one timer past Wichita netminder Olivier Rodrigue to make it 1-0.
At the 13:40 mark, the Walleye extended their lead to two. Berry entered the Thunder end, dropping the puck back to Randy Gazzola. He backed his way into the boards before firing a perfect pass toward the back post where TJ Hensick redirected the puck inside the far post for his 19th goal of the year.
The frame got worse for Wichita when former Thunder forward John Albert scored his 17th goal of the season with five seconds left in the period. With Toledo on the power-play, Berry passed the puck across ice to Keeghan Howdeshell, who moved down the slot just inside the left face-off circle before firing a wrist shot that Rodrigue saved. The rebound directed toward the boards where Albert gained control, turning quickly and lifting a wrist shot that beat Rodrigue over the shoulder to make it 3-0.
Christopoulos made that lead hold from there. He saved five shots in the first and 13 in the second period as Wichita had no answers for the Toledo netminder. Jake Theut had relieved Rodrigue early in the second period, and was doing all he could to keep the Thunder in this contest. Theut stopped all 15 shots he faced.
The Thunder were able to put just five shots on Christopoulos in the final period, but made the last of those count as Stinil netted his 11th goal of the season with 23 seconds left in the contest. Steven Johnson had the puck in the corner, passing it into the slot to Cam Clarke who blasted a slap shot that Christopoulos saved, but the rebound came right to Stinil, who put it in to make it 3-1. That would be the final.
The Wichita Thunder (22-22-7) continue their four-game road trip on Saturday when they travel to Indy to take on the Fuel (21-23-5). The puck drops at 6:00 Wichita time.
By Robert Pannier