READING, Pa. – The Reading Royals may dispute the legality of the game-winning play. But there was no disputing what put the Komets in position to defeat the ECHL’s defending champions Thursday night.
The Komets were clearly more prepared for Game 1 of the quarterfinals, controlling the bulk of the play and winning 2-1 on forward Shawn Szydlowski’s goal with 8.1 seconds remaining in front of 3,261 fans at Santander Arena.
We didn’t play with enough energy. This was a playoff game. We didn’t create our forecheck, said Royals coach Larry Courville, whose team won the Eastern Conference’s regular-season title. Our compete level wasn’t there. I don’t know if we took them lightly, but this is a good (Komets) team.
The Komets outshot the Royals 39-21.
Szydlowski won it after there was a race for the puck along the left boards with defenseman Mike Banwell, who fell down amid the battle, allowing Szydlowski to wait for teammate Joe Hartman to attack the net. As Szydlowski looked in Hartman’s direction, he wristed the puck from the left circle and past goaltender Brandon Anderson.
We made a good play to get it out of our zone. (Mike) Embach made a good chip to get it past the defense. Then, I just got on my horse, Szydlowski said.
I knew there was only 20 seconds left, and I wanted to get a last chance. Luckily, I had a good battle with the defenseman and he ended up falling down. We had a 2-on-1 and Hartman driving the net freed me up to shoot the puck. It went over his pad and into the net.
The Royals berated referee Andrew Wilk for not calling an interference penalty on Szydlowski.
From what I saw and watching the video after, sure, it’s a penalty, Courville said. A guy grabs Banwell from the shoulder and forces him to score down. It’s a scoring opportunity. I don’t know why it wasn’t called, said Courville, whose team won three of four against the Komets this season.
Game 2 of the series will be Saturday night.
We were sharp and we knew we had to be. That’s a really good hockey team over there, and they’ve got some really good depth up front, coach Gary Graham said.
You’ve got to be able to handle the pressure, and we knew the play was going to be along the walls a lot. We did really good job of handling their pressure and being able to transition off the walls. That was a really big part of our success.
Reading opened the scoring at 13:25 of the first period on a goal from the left circle by forward Josh Brittain, who played 31 games last season with the Komets. He snapped the puck from the left circle and past goalie Ben Meisner, while falling to the ice, after teammate Sean Wiles dropped a pass while tumbling to the ice himself.
We could have taken a step back, but we kept staying steady, Graham said. We knew there’s going to be highs and lows during the game, and the guys were doing a good job talking during the game and that was a big part for us, first game in here, just controlling the emotions. We were just steady on the bench. The next shift was the most important one and we stayed that way the entire game.
After falling behind, Fort Wayne tallied 13 of the next 14 shots – most from the perimeter – in the span of 16:27.
Komets forward Mike Embach tied it at 16:47 of the second period with a short-handed goal, set up with a pass from the right corner by Brandon Marino.