MOLINE, IL — All good things must end.
For Quad City Mallards fans, that end was Saturday night. Game five held less hope for Mallards fans than game four had, until the last 21 minutes. But hope alone doesn’t win games, just like bread alone doesn’t feed a man.
The Fort Wayne Komets had clearly decided before Saturday’s game that enough was enough, beginning the game as strong any game during the series. The Komets have always been a physical team, throwing bodies around and out-muscling in the corners. They didn’t stop playing their game, leaving the Mallards to scramble in their wake to try to force a game six. The Komets, plain and simple, out-played the Mallards for most of the first two periods, and arguably maybe even much of the third.
Some of that might have to do with the rosters and less with the talent, per se. The Mallards’ roster appears built for finesse and speed, while the Komets are for the most part a large team. The Mallards seemed hesitant to finish their checks or to toe the line of physicality that the Komets had learned to tight-rope walk along. I’m not saying it’s wrong for the Komets to play aggressively; in fact, I think it’s something the Mallards should improve upon next season. If the Mallards could find some players who can throw their bodies around as well as the Komets can, while not sacrificing too many of the finesse players, the Quad Cities could welcome a victory parade in the not-too-distant future.
Fort Wayne took a two-goal lead into the first intermission after Trevor Cheek scored at the six and a half minutes mark, followed by Jamie Schaafsma’s power-play tally ten minutes later. Former Mallard Kyle Follmer assisted on Cheek’s goal, passing to the crease-front for the forward to backhand the puck into the netting behind C.J. Motte. Schaafsma’s marker was a beautiful play, a perfect passing drill from the right dot to the point and then down to the right edge of the blue paint. Shawn Szydlowski occupied the right dot, while Jason Binkley had point.
The power-play units had their fun in the sun during the second period, both of the goals being scored while the other team was down a man. The Komets got their lead to three goals just over 12 minutes into the frame after a series of rebounds and redirections. A flurry of shots erupted in front of Motte and to his left, and within seconds a goal was scored. While some would blame him for that, I don’t see how he could have foreseen the bounces. Schaafsma was near the left dot while Kyle Thomas was in front of the crease. Thomas fell down and then redirected a shot while sitting down. Motte had his back to Thomas as he was busy watching Schaafsma and didn’t see the puck.
With 52.3 seconds left, Motte finally seemed to snap a little. He covered the puck to draw a whistle, and a Komet had a bit of a late poke at the puck. Motte got in his face, some Mallards swooped in, and the referees broke up the scrum before anything could result. But the fire that had been ignited wasn’t put out. With 15 seconds left before the second intermission, Grant Arnold ended Pat Nagle’s shutout with help from Justin Kovacs and Sam Warning. Arnold was in the crease screening and deflected Kovacs’ shot in from the right corner of the crease. The goal came just after a five-on-three power play had changed to a one-man deficit for the Komets, Cheek being released from the box just seconds after Follmer had left during play.
One minute and 46 seconds into the final frame, the Mallards struck again to pull within one. Kevin Gibson offered a tape-to-tape pass to Chris Francis from the right blue-line, and Francis fired it into the twine as he swung across in front of the crease. Nolan LaPorte also earned an apple on that tally. The Mallards then played the next twelve minutes like they had played Friday’s game, a truly great contest of teams that made fans wonder if they could ever sit in a seat without being on the edge again. But alas, the Mallards only had six shots on goal in the third period, which doesn’t bode well for a victory. With 50 seconds left Motte came out of the crease to play the puck past the dots as he headed for the bench, the extra attacker coming out to help. An icing by the visitors whittled time off the clock but brought the puck into their own zone. As the final horn sounded, Nagle caught Alex Petan’s last shot of the season; the Mallards were done.
It wasn’t an ending the Mallards wanted, but it was a better ending than could have been. The Komets now must wait to who wins the series between Kalamazoo and Toledo. As of this writing, the Walleye and Wings will play game seven on Tuesday night.
Thank you to all of you who have read my articles through this season, and I hope you’ll stick around on The Sin Bin to read my fellow writers’ great coverage of other teams while the Mallards prepare for next season.
Over the summer you’ll get to read my take on what the Mallards’ roster should look like, as well as other Mallards news too.
Until then, friends.