CINCINNATI – Don't take your eyes off the ice if the Komets are tied with the clock winding down in the playoffs.
Fort Wayne opened the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 2-1 victory over Cincinnati on Friday, thanks to another late goal.
Forward Christian Ouellet was the hero with the game-winning goal, which came after he fought his way to the rebound of a Mike Embach shot and slithered the puck between the legs of goaltender Rob Madore with 7.1 seconds left at U.S. Bank Arena.
“I tried to keep it on the ice and wanted to go between the legs of the goalie,” Ouellet said. “It hit the skate of the defenseman and then it went in there. It was a lucky goal. But we worked hard on that shift to get the puck there. It's a great feeling.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is tonight in Cincinnati.
The Cyclones, the highest remaining seed in the conference at No. 5, learned what the defending champion, top-seeded Reading Royals did in the first round – the No. 8 Komets are resilient.
The opening game of the Reading series was eerily similar; the Komets won 2-1 on Shawn Szydlowski's goal with 8.1 seconds left after Fort Wayne rallied from an early deficit.
“It's unbelievable,” Komets goaltender Ben Meisner said of Ouellet's goal. “I had a view of the puck trickling and I thought, ‘Is that going in?' It crossed the line, the light went on, the guys were screaming, and I said something I can't say right now. I just couldn't believe it. It's a credit to our guys. We outworked them and generated a lot. They had some pretty good chances, too, but the guys did a pretty good job of clearing stuff out from in front of me.”
Meisner stopped 22 shots. His best saves were against Wade Megan, who was recently sent down by San Antonio of the American Hockey League after scoring 11 goals in 43 games. He was stopped Friday on two breakaways and two wraparounds.
Megan did score 8:13 into the second period, receiving a pass out of the left corner from forward Barry Almeida and chipping the puck into the top of the net.
“Part of my job coming down here was to score goals and help the team win,” Megan said. “I can definitely do a better job of that. I had some chances that I definitely should have put in tonight. That's how it goes sometimes. It's going to be a long series, and I've got a lot of hockey left.”
The Komets tied it at 17:00 of the second period with their first power-play goal of the postseason. They had been 0 for 15 on the power play before Embach's slap shot from the left circle beat Madore and slipped underneath the crossbar. The Komets were 1 for 4 on power plays. Embach, who was disgruntled that Cincinnati traded him away early this season, has seven goals and 10 points in seven games against his former team.
The Cyclones were 0 for 2 on power plays Friday and are 1 for 18 in the playoffs. They got a power play with 5:46 remaining because of a Brandon Marino high-stick, and Meisner stopped all four of their shots.
“I don't think our best players were our best players,” Cincinnati coach Ben Simon said. “(Meisner) played well. Both goalies played well. But at the end of the day, you have to bear down on your opportunities. In the playoffs, you only get one, maybe two, in a game if you're lucky.”