CINCINNATI – Ah, well. It’s not like anyone was just gonna roll out of bed and win four in this thing, right?
And so Christian Ouellet’s golden swipe at the puck on Friday night morphed into the second period from hell on Saturday night, and so it goes, so it goes. A Komets victory in Game 1 of the best-of-seven ECHL conference semifinals became a Cincinnati W in Game 2, and now it’s all even going north and west to Indiana, as anyone who paid attention to Game 1 might have reasonably guessed.
The better team won (tonight), Komets coach Gary Graham said after Cyclones 5, Komets 2.
They’re a really good team over there, and they taught us a lesson that we’ve got to come to play every night, left wing Chris Auger agreed.
That the Komets did not come to play Saturday night, or at least come to play long enough, was reflected almost perfectly in the final score. This was a game that a lot like Friday night all over again for a period, and then it didn’t, and you can lay as much of that at the Komets’ doorstep as the Cyclones’.
From 0-0 after one – the shots were 9-5 Komets after a period, nearly a mirror of the 9-4 total from Friday night – it went to 1-0 Cyclones, and then 2-0, and then 2-1, 3-1, 4-1. Almost none of that you could blame on goaltender Ben Meisner; most of it was a simple consequence of the Cyclones beating the Komets to the puck in the offensive end, forcing turnovers and planting the chances that resulted in a way they were unable to in Game 1.
And there were chances. The Cyclones managed just 23 shots Friday; they had 18 in the second period alone Saturday, on the way to 33 in all.
Last night I thought we gave up too many Grade-A scoring chances, and they didn’t bury ’em, Graham said. I thought tonight we gave up maybe not the quality of last night, but they buried their chances.
They’re one of the best offensive teams in the league, and we’ve got to be aware of it. The way you play teams like that is you take care of the puck, and we didn’t do that.
And if that was a hurtful lesson, it was also a valuable one for a team that maybe had been living too comfortably since squeaking into the playoffs and then, as if that unlocked some sort of aha moment, getting their feet solidly beneath them.
A No. 8 seed coming in, they immediately took down No. 1, defending league champion Reading, in five games. And when Ouellet scored Friday with the clock down to the dregs – 7.1 seconds were showing when the puck wandered in – the No. 8 seed was 5-1 in the playoffs, and that might have been just enough prosperity to induce a bit of amnesia.
Which is to say: They maybe forgot that the playoffs aren’t supposed to be so easy.
The guys maybe thought, myself included, that we won Game 1 and all of a sudden we’re gonna steamroll, Auger said. The playoffs isn’t like that.
No, they aren’t. And so it’s back to square one in a series that’s likely to circle around to that point more than once before it’s done.
It’s only gonna get harder, Graham said. We can’t be a group that can rest on what we did in the previous game. We’ve got to keep finding hunger and keep finding urgency and remember what’s gotten us to where we’re at right now.
Which is all even. And barely even begun.