WHEELING, WV- The Wheeling Nailers made a run at the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs, but with three games remaining on the schedule, their hopes fell short. Olivier Labelle snapped a 3-3 tie at the 6:26 mark of the third period with his second goal of the contest for the Reading Royals, who knocked off the Nailers, 5-3 at WesBanco Arena. Daniel Leavens netted his fourth goal in four games in the defeat.
The first period featured a strong start by the Royals, but a good bounceback from the Nailers. Reading opened the scoring with a power play goal at the 4:11 mark of the first period. Matt Willows set up Olivier Labelle, who swept a shot along the ice and in from the bottom of the left circle. 2:17 later, Willows created a second strike for the visitors. Willows wheeled around the right side of the net, leaving the puck in the crease, where it was poked home by Steven Swavely. With 2:31 remaining, Wheeling got on the scoreboard, courtesy of a power play marker. Nick Sorkin fed Gage Quinney, who deposited a pass through the slot to Daniel Leavens, who tapped in his fourth goal in four games from the left side of the low slot.
Momentum was on the Nailers side as the middle frame got under way. 41 seconds in, they got the equalizer, as Christian Hilbrich roofed a wrist shot from the middle of the slot. 1:12 after that, Wheeling took its first lead of the contest. Nick Sorkin fired a shot on goal from the right circle, which was stopped by Mark Dekanich. The rebound squirted out to Garrett Meurs, who backhanded it in for his 24th tally of the campaign. With 8:26 remaining in the stanza, the Royals pulled even. Todd Perry's left point wrister clipped off of Sean Maguire's right shoulder, before trickling in over the goal line.
Reading broke the tie at the 6:26 mark of the third period with its second power play goal of the affair. Jesper Pettersson stepped into a one-timer from the middle of the blueline, getting a deflection from Labelle for his second of the day. Willows raced around a defender to chase down a pass by Justin Crandall, before tapping in an empty net tally to lock up a 5-3 Royals win, as well as the final playoff spot in the North Division.
Mark Dekanich got the win for Reading, turning aside 32 of the 35 shots he faced. Sean Maguire got saddled with the loss for Wheeling, making 24 saves on 28 shots.
The Nailers will begin their final week of the regular season on Wednesday in Brampton at 7:15. Wheeling will then return home for its last home contest of the regular year on Friday night at 7:35 against Kalamazoo. That will be Fan Appreciation Night, in addition to Flat Screen Friday and Frosty Friday. To purchase tickets, or to get more information about season tickets, group tickets, and more, call (304) 234-GOAL.