There was a common thread to the Komets’ goals Thursday night: They took patience and went into a virtually open net, after Reading goaltender Riley Gill was caught out of position or unable to stop the first shot.
All of which added up to a 5-1 Fort Wayne victory over the defending champion Reading Royals in front of 4,317 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
In front of the net, we wanted to concentrate on that, said right wing Brandon Marino, who scored into an empty net in the final minute. They’ve got a good team, and they’ve got a good goalie. We knew we had to get some guys in front of him and try to create some havoc in front of their net. I thought we did a good job of doing that, getting there and winning some battles in front of the net.
Forward Aaron Clarke scored twice, and Dean Ouellet and Chris Auger also tallied goals for the Komets, who are up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which continues with Game 4 tonight and Game 5 Sunday at the Coliseum.
You have to take your hat off to Fort Wayne. They came out with a lot of energy tonight, Reading assistant coach Andy Scott said. They played their game, and we kind of fell into their game a little bit.
They were creating chances up and down the ice. I think you saw we’re more effective playing the way we did in (the 4-2 victory in) Game 2, which is getting pucks deep and grinding, playing a little more defensive-oriented game.
The Komets came into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the conference but have stunned the top-seeded Royals twice.
All the credit goes to the guys. They all battled hard tonight, and I thought we were the more desperate team, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. You saw the big shot blocks and even on the one goal that Reading scored, (Matthew) Maione lays down face-first and blocks a shot after a turnover, and you see the steel (of his skates) go flying up in the air. Guys were sacrificing and battling.
The Komets opened the scoring at 7:50, when Clarke and Gill were both sprawled on the ice looking for a rebound, which Clarke swept into the net.
We knew we had to be better in the paint, Graham said. Our first goal was exactly what we worked on for three days in practice – somebody being desperate and putting in a rebound. We knew it was going to take a punch to the head, and it was Clarke laying on his side. It was the best goal of the series so far because it sums up the way we need to be in the slot and winning those loose pucks.
Ouellet, who missed the previous 17 games because of a concussion, scored at 6:15 of the second period by intercepting a pass, drawing Gill out and tucking the puck inside the left goalpost. The Royals answered 1:14 later, when Sean Wiles netted a slap shot from the right circle.
Clarke struck 58 seconds into the third period by accepting defenseman Jordon Southorn’s pass from the left circle, fooling Gill and slipping a backhand inside the right goalpost. And after a Marino shot slipped underneath Gill at 7:40 of the third, Auger swept it in easily.
Gill stopped 40 of 44 shots. Fort Wayne’s Ben Meisner stopped 36 of 37.
They switched two players in the lineup (Ouellet and Sy Nutkevitch) and played well. But their whole team played well, Scott said. Their goaltending was very strong, as was ours. But they capitalized on their chances and we didn’t.