WINDSOR - Brady Vail's goal at 17:30 of the third period snapped a 5-5 tie and the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Plymouth Whalers, 6-5, before 6,038 at Windsor Family Credit Union Centre on Sunday.
The Whalers had an eight-game winning streak snapped and remain in first place in the Ontario Hockey League's West Division with a record of 34-17-5-4, good for 77 points and six points ahead of Sault Ste. Marie (33-21-3-2, 71 points), who defeated Mississauga, 4-3, on Sunday.
Windsor - in ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race - improves to 24-29-1-6, good for 55 points to keep their slim playoff chance alive. The Spits gained two points on Saginaw, who lost, 3-2, in London on Sunday. Windsor trails Saginaw for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by nine points with eight games left.
Second star Tom Wilson scored twice for Plymouth (20-21), while Rickard Rakell (20), Stefan Noesen (23) and Mitchell Heard (8) scored one apiece.
Former Whaler Alex Aleardi emerged as the game's first star, scoring two goals (25-26) and adding three assists. Vail scored his 18th, while Kerby Rychel (35), Emerson Clark (6) and Alexander Khokhlachev (15) added single goals.
The first period was much like the Whalers' eight-game winning streak, with Plymouth controlling play and outshooting Windsor, 17-4. Wilson scored the only goal of the period, batting home a rebound at 15:33 after Windsor goaltender Jaroslav Pavelka made the save on Gianluca Curcuruto's shot from the point.
Rakell scored with an excellent individual effort at 3:17 of the second period to give Plymouth a 2-0 lead. Picking up a bouncing puck at center ice, Rakell controlled the puck, gathered speed in neutral territory and then beat Pavelka with the shot at the hashmarks.
But the game turned around as Windsor scored four goals in a span of 3:55 in the second period to take their first lead. Aleardi started it, potting home a re-direct on a give-and-go at 8:17. Then Aleardi set up Clark to tied the game at 2-2 at 9:57 as he worked to the left wing half-wall and shot the puck into traffic at the Plymouth blue ice. Clark found the puck through traffic to score. Khokhlachev scored with a shot from the left circle at 11:07 and Rychel gave Windsor a 4-2 at 12:12 on a deflection.
At that point, Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci pulled started goaltender Matt Mahalak in favor of Alex Nedeljkovic. Mahalak stopped 14-of-18 shots over 32:12.
Noesen scored a dramatic goal as time wound down in the second period to cut the Windsor lead to 4-3. Working into the Windsor zone in the final seconds of the period, Noesen circled the Spitfires' net to the left post and jammed a wrap-around in with 0.8 seconds remaining.
Plymouth tied the game at 4-4 at 3:15 of the third period with Wilson scoring his second of the game, following up Vince Trocheck's shot to score on a backhand on the rebound just outside the blue ice. The Whalers re-took the lead at 5-4 at 8:11 on a power play with Heard potted home a rebound off Connor Carrick's shot from the point.
But Aleardi came back to tie the game at 5-5, scoring on a Windsor power play with a rising shot from the left circle. Aleardi set up Vail for the game-winner, moving the puck from the left boards to Vail at the left point, who scored on the shot at 17:30 with traffic in front of Nedeljkovic.
Plymouth had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute when Vellucci pulled Nedeljkovic for the extra attacker and Aleardi took a high sticking penalty at 19:27, giving the Whalers a six-on-four advantage. But the Whalers got no closer.
Plymouth outshot Windsor, 43-28.
The Whalers remain on the road next week, playing in Niagaea on Thursday (6:45 p.m., 88.1 FM WSDP), Erie on Friday (6:45 p.m., WSDP 88.1 FM) and Mississauga on Sunday (1:50 pm, www.plymouthwhalers.com).
Plymouth's next home game in Sun. Mar. 10 at 2 p.m. at Compuware Arena against Mississauga.