FORT WAYNE – If the Komets were to sit down and describe all the horrible ways to lose a playoff game, this would be near the top of the list.
The Komets were called for a delay-of-game penalty in the second overtime, and Cincinnati forward Josh Shalla scored at 11:25 to give the Cyclones a 3-2 win and a 2-1 series lead Thursday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The winning goal came after a battle in front of the net, and Shalla swatted it past netminder Ben Meisner (33 saves). Komets forward Shawn Szydlowski was given the penalty after he lifted the puck from deep in his own zone and it landed in the Memorial Coliseum stands.
Only after a long discussion between referee Frederic Leblanc and linesmen Jesse Pletsch and Zach Thornton was it deemed a penalty was necessary, and it took only 30 seconds for the Cyclones to get the victory.
It was the seventh-longest game in the Komets’ 62-year history. At 71:25, it was the longest game in the history of the Cyclones. The Cyclones had coughed up a two-goal lead in the third period.
In the opinion of the Komets, it shouldn’t have been a penalty because the puck left the playing surface over their bench, where there isn’t glass to deflect such shots.
When the refs are that indecisive over whether it came through the bench or went over the glass, in my opinion, you can’t call that, Fort Wayne forward Chris Auger said. Clearly, where it landed, I had a front-row view and it came through our bench. It’s unfortunate to have something like that happen. And then the goal itself, we were playing a pretty tight box and the puck gets deflected up and floats into the net. It seemed that was the type of goal that was going to win tonight.
Games 4 and 5 will be at the Coliseum on Saturday and Sunday.
It’s pretty frustrating, Komets center Scott Fleming said. But we’ve just got to forget about it and get ready for Saturday now. That’s just the reality of playoffs.
The Komets had a flurry of chances late in the scoreless first period. But they couldn’t capitalize, even after Aaron Clarke stole the puck and fired a backhand shot from point-blank range, and even after Brandon Marino stole the puck to set up Mike Embach from the same spot.
The big saves made by Cincinnati goalie Rob Madore (49 saves) sparked his team, which tallied 14 of the next 17 shots and got goals on back-to-back shots in the second period.
Shalla snapped the puck from the left circle and into the top of the net at 13:38. After a fight between Fort Wayne captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock and defenseman Mike Dalhuisen, the Cyclones went up 2-0 when Zach Budish tucked a backhand shot inside the right post at 14:10.
The Komets came out like gangbusters in the third period with 13 of the first 16 shots and two goals. Amid the first 10 shots of the period – all of which were by Fort Wayne – the Komets almost scored during a power play at 3:30, but Matt Carter’s shot off a rebound hit the crossbar. Twenty seconds later, with Shalla still in the penalty box for tripping, Szydlowski scored off a rebound to cut the deficit to one. It was only Fort Wayne’s second power-play goal in the playoffs in 23 opportunities.
Embach tied it at 2 at 7:52 when he redirected a pass from defenseman Matthew Maione into the top of the net, to the delight of the 4,104 fans.
Fort Wayne outshot Cincinnati 20-3 in the third period and 14-10 in the overtimes.
Fort Wayne is 3-1 at the Coliseum in the playoffs; Cincinnati is 4-0 on the road.
We were a little bit enamored of them in the first period. There were plays to be made, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. For whatever reason, we weren’t quite sharp enough to be executing. It wasn’t good enough in the first two periods, and that’s what we have to take out of this game.