From start to finish, the Komets played their best game of series Sunday. They did most of the things they set out to do, such as dictate the play, limit turnovers and be physical. That’s why a 4-3 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Cyclones stung more than any previous loss.
Captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock gave Fort Wayne a lead 16:04 into the third period. But as the 4,716 fans at Memorial Coliseum were still celebrating, Cyclones forward Josh Birkholz was left unattended to accept a cross-ice pass from Jonathan Hazen and score with a shot from the left circle 22 second later.
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.
After forward Aaron Clarke failed to clear the puck from his own zone, Birkholz sent a pass out of the left corner and Hazen was there to one-time it in at 1:46 of overtime, giving the Cyclones a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.
Game 6 is Tuesday at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena, where the Komets have won 5 of 6 games this season. The only loss came in Game 2 when the Cyclones won 5-2 on May 3.
All three games since have gone to overtime: Cincinnati won 3-2 on Thursday in double-overtime on Josh Shalla’s power-play goal; and Fort Wayne’s Jordon Southorn scored from the blue line for the 3-2 win Saturday.
The Komets have reason for confidence going back to U.S. Bank Arena. The Komets are 22-15-3 on the road, including 2-2 in the playoffs. The Cyclones are 19-17-5 at home, including 2-3 in the postseason.
If you’re going to win a championship, you have to go through this kind of stuff. It’s nothing I haven’t experienced in the past, and these guys are going to realize that, said Schrock, who helped the Komets to an IHL championship in 2010 and a CHL title in 2012.
With Schrock, the Komets are 7-1 in games they could have been eliminated, dating back to 2010. Because of injury, he didn’t play in the one loss at Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2011.
We came out a lot better tonight than we had earlier in this series, Komets defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin said. We were on top of them and playing well, and we have to do the same thing on the road.
Despite the Komets’ early prowess, Cincinnati got the first goal, as it has in every game of the series. Forward Logan Shaw took a drop pass from defenseman Taylor Aronson and scored from the left circle at 5:52 of the first period.
Center Dean Ouellet tied it at 14:45 of the second period by snapping the puck through a crowd from 50 feet out. Teammate Shawn Szydlowski made it 2-1 just 1:25 later with a backhand from the slot. He’s scored in four straight games.
The Cyclones tied it 5:12 into the third period, when defenseman Josh McFadden’s shot from the blue line was redirected by Zach Budish.
When Schrocky scored that goal, Komets coach Gary Graham said, 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.