FORT WAYNE, IN — If the Komets and Kalamazoo Wings entered the week treating this three-game series like the playoffs, Friday’s matchup was an outstanding defensive battle in a win-or-go-home showdown.
Reality says it’s mid-February, but Fort Wayne came away from the 1-0 victory sensing it had just played an April or May contest.
“We knew it was gonna be a playoff feel,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “Best-of-three this week, first one on home ice, we wanted to hold serve. What a good defensive game.”
“Both teams really executed the game plan. You could see two teams that knew each other very well.”
Fort Wayne and Kalamazoo also squared off Sunday and Wednesday nights, splitting the games with a 5-3 Komets win and 3-1 Wings triumph, respectively.
Although Graham’s squad controlled the opening period on Friday, Fort Wayne (29-15-5) let a couple of scoring chances slip by. Mike Embach eventually struck first for the Komets, redirecting Cody Sol‘s shot from the point past Nick Riopel with just 25.2 seconds remaining in the frame.
“We’ve been laughing about [Sol] breaking sticks all year taking slapshots because he shoots it 100 miles an hour,” Embach said. “But sometimes you just gotta sauce it through, and that one it’s a lot easier to tip when he gets it through and it’s a wrist shot instead of me worried about getting hit in the head.”
While Fort Wayne’s offense otherwise worked most effectively in the slot, the defense forced Kalamazoo (24-22-1) to throw pucks on net from low-percentage areas throughout the night.
“We really kept them to the perimeter,” goaltender Pat Nagle said. “I think they maybe had a couple chances on the power play, but 5-on-5 we were really strong.”
The Komets killed six penalties, including a 5-on-3 that lasted 76 seconds and two minors in the third period.
“We did a good job of bending, not breaking,” Graham said. “That’s what you gotta do sometimes.”
Nagle, in his fourth game back after missing three months due to a leg injury, stopped 21 shots. It was his first 60-minute shutout of the season.