And now, bring on the defending champions.
The Komets closed the 62nd regular season in franchise history with a 4-3 victory tonight over the Toledo Walleye in an overtime shootout, and now Fort Wayne will take on the Reading Royals in a best-of-seven first-round playoff series that is expected to begin Thursday in Pennsylvania.
Game 2 is tentatively scheduled for Saturday in Reading. Game 3 would be at Memorial Coliseum April 24 in the 2-3-2 formatted series.
The Komets came into the night with a chance to get the seventh of eight seeds in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference, but hope of that evaporated when the Wheeling Nailers defeated Cincinnati 5-0.
Toledo’s Maxim Shalunov forced overtime with 17 seconds remaining in overtime, after a scrum in front of the net for the puck. In the shootout, Mike Embach had the winning goal in the seventh round, as Fort Wayne outscored Toledo 2-1.
After the game, right wing Brandon Marino was selected the Komets’ MVP by his teammates for the second straight year.
Toledo forward Brett Perlini scored on a knuckling wrist shot 15:32 into the first period after Matt Abercrombie’s pass from the left boards hit a skate and ricocheted into the slot.
The Komets answered 33 seconds later with Marino slipping a backhand shot under goaltender Jared Coreau to tie it at 1 at the end of a 2-on-2 rush. Against Toledo this season, Marino had six goals and 16 points as Fort Wayne won 8 of 9 games.
Marino has almost wrapped up the league’s point-scoring title with 30 goals and 88 points in 72 games. He has a six-point lead over Alaska’s Peter Sivak, who plays his final regular-season game later tonight at Colorado. Alaska plays one fewer game than the Komets because San Francisco folded mid-season.
Marino would be the first Fort Wayne player to accomplish the feat since Lonnie Loach had 131 points in the old IHL in 1990-91.
The Komets took a 2-1 lead at 1:57 of the second period, when defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin’s shot from the blue line sailed through a crowd and past Coreau, who finished with 50 saves.
Fort Wayne forward Jason Dale made it 3-1 with a shot from the bottom of the left circle 1:50 into the third period.
Shalunov answered at 4:00 by skating from the right corner, tucking a puck underneath goalie Steven Summerhays (29 saves) and then crashing into the netminder, knocking his helmet off.
After missing the playoffs last year, the Komets clinched their first ever ECHL playoff berth – and their 11th postseason berth in the last 12 years – with a 4-3 victory over Evansville on Friday at the Coliseum.
In the playoffs, the Komets will take on the conference-champion Royals (46-22-4), who won the Kelly Cup last season with a 4-1 series victory in the finals over Stockton.
During the regular season, the Komets went 1-2-1 against the Royals, but the teams haven’t met since Dec. 21.
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