Kalamazoo (35-28-2-3) at Wheeling (30-29-6-3)
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Last Time Out:
Ivan Kulbakov followed up a strong Friday night performance with a 27 save shutout on Saturday night as the K-Wings topped the Walleye 3-0 at the Huntington Center. The shutout was the first of Kulbakov's professional career and moved the K-Wings within one point of Fort Wayne for third place in the Central Division. After a scoreless first period Jimmy Mullin broke the ice, scoring what would prove to be the game-winning goal just 1:25 into the second period. Mullin took a feed off of the faceoff from Chris Collins, snapping a shot past Pat Nagle to put the K-Wings on the board. The 1-0 lead held until the final five minutes of regulation when Kyle Blaney added the insurance marker. On the top of the crease Blaney collected a rebound and reached around Nagle's pad giving the K-Wings the 2-0 lead. Luke Sandler would add the insurance marker in the final minute to cap off the scoring at 3-0. Ivan Kulbakov earned his first professional shutout, stopping all 27 shots faced.
Central Division Update:
The K-Wing victory paired with an Indy loss moved the K-Wings within three points of clinching a playoff spot. Kalamazoo, who is currently one point back of third place Fort Wayne, is five points ahead of the fifth place Fuel, and six points ahead of sixth place Wheeling. A K-Wing victory on Sunday afternoon would elminate the Nailers from any possibility of reaching the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Ivan Kulbakov kept the goose egg on the board on Saturday, stopping 27 shots on the way to his first professional shut out. Kulbakov, 22, had not recorded a shutout in his first 68 professional games. The last time Kulbakov held a team completely off the scoreboard came in his junior days as a member of the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) on March 8, 2017 against Team USA. During his lone season in the USHL Kulbakov ranked among the USHL leaders with five shutouts. He is the second K-Wing to pitch a shutout this season, joinng Jake Hildebrand. Hildebrand's lone shutout of the season came on December 1 against the Nailers.
Jimmy Mullin made his return to the ice for Kalamazoo on Saturday night in Toledo and made his impact felt, scoring the game-winning goal in the middle frame. Mullin was injured in the fourth game of the regular season on October 26 in Cincinnati. Prior to getting injured the forward had tallied a single goal in four games. He became the 13th different player to score a game-winning goal for the K-Wings this season.
Head to Head:
Sunday marks the eighth and final matchup between the Central Division foes. Kalamazoo has controlled the season series so far winning each of the first seven meetings, but two of those victories have come via overtime or the shootout. Tanner Sorenson leads the K-Wings with eight points (3g, 5a) in the season series against the Nailers. Sorenson is also the only available K-Wing to have scored more than twice against Wheeling this season. Overall 15 different K-Wings have found the back of the net against the Nailers this season. Jake Hildebrand has faced the Nailers on six occassions winning all six tries. The Michigan State product has posted a .929 save percentage to go along with a 2.46 goals against average.
Wheeling's offense has been led by Michael Phillips and Renars Krastenbergs who have each notched six points through the first seven games. Phillips leads all active skaters with five goals against Kalamazoo. Winston Day Chief and Cedric Lacroix are tied for second on the team with a trio of goals. Jordan Ruby has played the majority of games against Kalamazoo since joining the Nailers, posting a record of 0-1-1-1. Ruby has added on a 3.25 goals against average and a .904 save percentage against the K-Wings.