CINCINNATI, OH – It was a tough pill for the Cincinnati Cyclones to swallow on Tuesday night at U.S. Bank Arena as they dropped a pivotal divisional game to the Fort Wayne Komets, essentially wrapping up the Midwest Division for the Komets. While it is still mathematically possible for Cincinnati to catch Fort Wayne, it’ll be pretty difficult for the Komets to blow a seven-point lead with only five games left in the regular season.
It all started just three minutes into the game on their second shot of the game, Komets captain, Jamie Schaafsma picked up a loose puck, and from a tough angle, ripped it high on Andy Iles to make it 1-0 Fort Wayne. Cincinnati would quickly answer late in the opening frame with a busted 2-on-1 rush; newcomer, Levko Koper got it to Christiaan Minella, who beat Pat Nagle five-hole to tie the game at 1-1, giving Koper his first professional point. The Cyclones would find themselves ahead by the end of the 1st period, as Jack Downing would pick the pocket of a Fort Wayne defenseman, walk in, and snipe it past Nagle for a shorthanded tally, putting the Cyclones ahead 2-1. That was Downing’s league-leading 30th goal of the season.
It wouldn’t take long for the Komets to draw even again, after a Justin Hamonic shot rebounded loose right to Schaafsma, and he buried his second of the night to make it 2-2. Fort Wayne would regain the lead midway through the period. After forcing a turnover in the slot, Kyle Thomas went back-door for Garrett Meurs for the easy tap-in to make it 3-2 Komets. At the 14:32 mark of the middle frame, Cincinnati would draw even again with their second specialty teams tally of the night. Downing walked down the boards, sent a perfect feed to, Nick Huard, who bombed it in to tie the game at 3-3 on a power play goal.
Fort Wayne would get the game winner in the latter half of the third period with absolute chaos in front of Iles, about 7 different guys whacking at the puck in the crease, when finally Meurs was able to corral it and roof it top shelf to give the Komets a 4-3 lead. Shawn Szydlowski sealed the deal with an empty netter, as 5-3 Fort Wayne would be your final, making Fort Wayne the first team in the Midwest Division to clinch a 2016 Kelly Cup Playoff spot.
After playing a phenomenal game on Saturday night in Toledo, it wasn’t a good night for Cincinnati goaltender Andy Iles, who only made 10 saves on 14 Fort Wayne shots. However, you can’t really fault him for much on this night. Just about every single one of the Komets’ goals came off of turnovers where Cincinnati just could not clear the zone to save their lives. Fort Wayne, a very opportunistic team, took advantage and made them pay on those chances. That seems to have become the theme lately. The Cyclones play a good game, but their mistakes in their own zone are what burns them. Cincinnati simply has to be better defensively if they want to make a run here and make some noise in the postseason.
Looking at a few bright sides, it was nice to see Jack Downing, who has been on a little bit of a slump lately, tally a couple points. Newcomers Levko Koper and Brett Ferguson made a decent first impression in their Cincinnati debuts, fresh out of the University of Alberta.
In terms of the magic number, it did shrink from nine to seven thanks to the Colorado Eagles, who defeated the Tulsa Oilers 6-2 last night.
Both Tulsa and Cincinnati play three more games this week. The Oilers will see Colorado tonight, visit Quad City on Friday, and Evansville Saturday. The Cyclones will host Indy on Thursday, visit Evansville on Friday, and host Toledo on Saturday for the final home game of the 2015-2016 season.
The Cyclones can clinch a playoff spot as early as Friday or Saturday with any of the following combinations this week:
1. Three Cincinnati wins + One Tulsa regulation loss
2. Two Cincinnati wins + Two Tulsa regulations losses
3. One Cincinnati win + Three Tulsa regulation losses