From start to finish, it was the Komets’ best game of the series. But the outcome – a 4-3 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones – was the one that’s hurt the most.
Captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock gave Fort Wayne a lead 16:04 into the third period Sunday night. But as the 4,716 fans were still celebrating 24 seconds later, Cyclones forward Josh Birkholz was left unattended to accept a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Hazen and then score with a shot from the left circle.
“Just a mental breakdown,” Schrock said. “We have to know they’re going to try to push the envelope. I think Birkholz was kind of tagging up at our blue line, nobody picked him up and he made a good shot. We just have to be aware of those things. But this team is still in good shape. If you’re going to win a championship, you have to go through this kind of stuff.”
Hazen won it 1:46 into overtime with a one-timer from the left circle, after Birkholz fed him a pass from the corner. Fort Wayne goalie Ben Meisner stopped 28 shots.
“I was confident the entire game, to be honest with you. I liked what we were doing the entire game. We had the right jump. We were being physical. We were winning battles,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “When Schrocky scored that goal … we were playing some really good hockey, moving the puck well and playing responsible hockey. Just a complete blown assignment, and that’s very rare for us. Very rare.
“The untimely mistake that we made happened to kill us. If that maybe carried over in the overtime, it might have been.
The Cyclones lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals 3-2. Game 6 is Tuesday in Cincinnati, where the Komets have won 5 of 6 games this season.
After stagnant first periods in their last two games – a 3-2 double-overtime loss Thursday and a 3-2 overtime victory Saturday – the Komets promised to get a better start in Game 5. They did so by attacking the Cincinnati net early and tallying the first five shots.
But, as they have in every game of the series, the Cyclones scored first. Just after getting out of the penalty box, forward Logan Shaw took a drop pass from defenseman Taylor Aronson and sent a shot from the left circle above the outstretched glove of Meisner for a 1-0 lead on the Cyclones’ first shot of the game.
The Komets continued to play a more workmanlike game than they had been, grinding in the corners and looking for rebounds via shots from the perimeter. It paid off at 14:45 of the second period, when center Dean Ouellet snapped the puck from 50 feet out, it sailed through a crowd and beat goalie Rob Madore (30 saves), who was screened by his own teammate.
The Komets took the lead 1:25 later, as forward Shawn Szydlowski skated through the slot, backhanded the puck into the net and then did a celebratory glide into the corner, as the fans went wild.
Szydlowski has scored in four consecutive games. That’s tied for the longest such streak in the league in these playoffs with Greenville’s Andrew Yogan and Idaho’s Gaelan Patterson.
But the Cyclones evened the game again 5:12 into the third period, when defenseman Josh McFadden’s shot from the blue line was redirected by Zach Budish.