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Royals' Late Strike Pulls Out Win Over Wheeling, 5-4

Friday, March 7th
Royals' Late Strike Pulls Out Win Over Wheeling, 5-4

Reading, PA – The Reading Royals (win, 34-19-1-1=70) of the ECHL, affiliate of the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League and the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, defeated the Wheeling Nailers (loss, 28-24-1-5= 62), 5-4, at Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania.

The Royals fell behind by a pair in the first period, but battled back to earn three separate leads—the third of which proved to be the charm, when Josh Brittain deflected a Ryan Cruthers shot with 1:56 remaining in regulation to give Reading a 5-4 lead and bag what proved to be Brittain’s third consecutive game winning goal. The victory, which pushed the Royals’ record to a season high fifteen games over .500, stretched the team’s win streak to four.

Wheeling struck 10:10 into the first period when Carter Rowney charged into the offensive zone on an odd man rush. Rowney attempted to slip a cross-crease pass to Tom Kuhnhackl, who was sneaking in on the weak side. But the pass ricocheted off the stick of Royals’ defenseman Michael Cajkovsky and behind goaltender Brandon Anderson (win 18-8-1-0, 29/33) for Rowney’s eleventh of the year. That marked the seventh time in the last nine games that the opposition has scored the game’s first goal on Reading.

The Nailers stretched their lead to 2-0 3:06 later when Anderson, who would ultimately claim his fourteenth win in his last sixteen decisions for the Royals, was pick-pocketed as he was playing a puck behind the Royals’ net by forward Max MacKay, who not only stole the puck, he stuffed it home for his fourteenth of the year.

Reading cut Wheeling’s lead in half 17:28 into the first on the team’s first power play chance of the game. Cajkovsky ripped one from the high slot that slipped through heavy traffic in front of goaltender Eric Hartzell (loss, 3-4-0-1, 25/30) for his eleventh of the year.

The Royals tied the game at two 2:52 into the second on a short-handed goal by T.J. Syner. Brandon Blandina stole the puck at the defensive blue line and charged off to the races down the right wing side into the offensive zone. Blandina fired a cross-ice pass for the hard-charging Syner. The puck ricocheted off Syner’s skates and into the net for his fourteenth of the season.

Reading took the team’s first lead (3-2) a minute later when Ethan Cox sprang Cajkovsky on a coast-to-coast rush. Cajkovsky turned on the jets, broke down the left wing side, cut to the top of the crease and went fore-hand-back-hand top shelf for his second of the game and his twelfth of the year.

Wheeling tied the game at three 14:20 into the second when a defensive zone turnover keyed off a scoring flurry for the Nailers. Carter Rowney passed from below the goal line to Dustin Stevenson who was set up in the left circle for a hot blast that beat Anderson over the left shoulder but clanged the cross-bar. The rebound fell to the top of the crease, where Kuhnhackl punched back the rebound for his first in the ECHL.

Reading regained the lead 58 seconds into the third period, when Ethan Cox fired out of the right circle. Hartzell made the save, but Cox followed the shot and found the rebound for a quick punch-back and his tenth of the year.

Wheeling bounced back again to tie the game at four, striking on their third and final power play chance of the night with 8:04 remaining in regulation. After a sequence of scoring chances, Stevenson settled and fired from the left point. The puck, which was just under the height of the cross-bar, sailed by everyone including Anderson for Stevenson’s third of the year.

But the Royals rebounded to take the team’s third and final lead of the night with just 1:56 remaining. Ryan Cruthers gained possession in the right circle and wheeled one towards the Wheeling net. Brittain, who was buzzing out front, got a piece of the puck on the way in to bag his eleventh of the year—six of which have proven to be game winners—as the Royals were able to hold on for their twelfth come-from-behind win of the year (and the seventh come-back win in the last thirteen games played).

The Royals return to action tomorrow (Saturday, March 8 @ 7:05 pm) when the Evansville Icemen visit Santander Arena in Reading, Pennsylvania. The first 2000 fans 15 and older will get a magnetic white board courtesy of Rentokil Ehrlich. Saturday’s game night broadcast will kick off at 6:35 pm on CBS Sports Radio 1240 am and 98.5 will kick off with the Highmark Blue Shield Warm-Up Show on the Royals Broadcast Network presented by Boscov’s Travel and Apple Vacations.

End 14 03-07