FORT WAYNE – After all the third-period struggles this season, and all the power-play woes, it ironically came down to this: The Komets dominated in the third Friday night and got the game-winning goal on a power play in a 4-3 victory over the Evansville IceMen.
It secured Fort Wayne a playoff berth for the 11th time in the last 12 years.
We punched our ticket in the right way, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. On home ice, down heading into the third, come-from-behind win. If you look at the entire season, this long journey, we all know that the third period on home ice has been the reason we were in the predicament that we were in.
The Komets had been 1-15-1 when trailing after two periods, regardless of rink. At Memorial Coliseum, their record was a less-than-sterling 14-11-9. And their power play ranked 19th among the ECHL’s 21 teams with an efficiency of 14 percent.
The IceMen (30-30-11) must have felt confident, then, with a one-goal lead until the Komets (35-24-12) tallied the first 12 shots of the third period.
Forward Scott Fleming tied it at 2 just 38 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from 40 feet out. Teammate Christian Ouellet continued the barrage with a 20-footer at 7:36.
The IceMen tied it at 3 at 9:54 with a goal from forward Daulton Leveille, who skated in one-on-one against defenseman Steven Shamanski and then banked a shot from the left side of the net off goalie Ben Meisner.
But on a power play at 17:05 – the Komets were 1 for 4 – an Evansville clearing attempt was scuttled at the blue line by defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin, who set up Ouellet for a leisurely game-winning shot from 15 feet. Evansville goalie Mike Clemente stopped 38 of 42 shots.
It’s a great feeling. Every guy has worked hard for this. It’s a huge game, a great comeback win and character win for us, Ouellet said. We played a great game, and it’s a great feeling. We had great composure after the second period. We knew we had played a great game, and knew we just had to get in the offensive zone and create more movement in front of the net.
The Komets, who are tied for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with Wheeling, finish the regular-season tonight against Toledo (21-43-6). Wheeling, which holds the tiebreaker over Fort Wayne, plays tonight at Cincinnati. The seventh seed will play South Carolina, Kalamazoo or Orlando, while the eighth will take on Reading in a first-round best-of-seven playoff series.
The Komets missed the playoffs last season, their first in the ECHL, and have now avoided missing in back-to-back years for the first time since 1974 and 1975.
We’re relieved. We’re happy that we did it ourselves. The feeling is better when you qualify on your own instead of waiting for another team to lose, said Meisner, who stopped 20 shots and negated the importance of ninth-place Florida’s victory over Reading.
Evansville, which has lost 6 of 7, built a 2-0 first-period lead on a pair of power-play goals. Forward Josh Beaulieu netted a one-timer from the right circle at 12:58. And forward Alex Aleardi, who was born in Fort Wayne, scored at 15:43 after skating out of the left corner.
Forward Mike Embach scored in the second period for the Komets from 40 feet out.
It’s definitely a huge relief. It’s been a battle for a couple months to stay in the playoff hunt and to get this win tonight is a huge weight off our shoulders, that’s for sure, Danis-Pepin said.
Notes: The Komets brought in a new defenseman, Justin Sefton, who had been with Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 17 goals and 39 points in 73 games this season. Shamanski will leave Monday to complete his education at Providence.