CINCINNATI, Ohio – The Central Division Semifinals made their way to the Queen City on Thursday night for Game 3 of the series between the Fort Wayne Komets and Cincinnati Cyclones. Fort Wayne got out to a 2-0 series advantage after sweeping Cincinnati at home over the weekend.
The opening frame lacked energy from all over the rink. A small crowd for a dollar beer night, and a playoff game no less, US Bank Arena was quiet. Play on the ice wasn’t much better. Although players were skating hard, playoff atmosphere did not exist until after the midway point of the frame.
Dominic Zombo, making his return to the Cyclones’ lineup after serving a one-game suspension for a check to the head of Justin Hodgman, set the tone for the Cyclones’ compete level early on by diving for loose pucks, and doing whatever necessary to blocking shots left and right.
After a few heated moments, Daniel Muzito-Bagenda was sent to the penalty box for roughing at the halfway mark. The Komets took advantage of the man opportunity, opening the scoring on a goal from Bobby Shea. However, their lead was short-lived as Cincinnati used their league-leading power-play unit to the advantage with five seconds remaining. As Jason Binkley sat for tripping penalty, Justin Vaive notched his third goal of the playoffs by redirecting a shot from Shawn O’Donnell.
The second period proved to be significantly different than the first, with both teams going hard right off the opening faceoff. Within two minutes, Fort Wayne took the one-goal lead on a shot from Phelix Martineau who would go on to account for another goal in the frame. In between his goals, Cincy was able to briefly tie it up. Driving down the middle of the ice towards goaltender Michael Houser, Jesse Schultz fed a pass between his legs back to Muzito-Bagenda who made a short-range shot to make a two-goal game for both teams. The period would ultimately end with the Komets holding a 4-3 lead, after Cincinnati was able to knock in a goal to cut the deficit with under two seconds to go.
For every bit as slow the opening frame was, the third countered all of it and then some with a fiery intensity.
Before the puck could be dropped, Arvin Atwal and Shea went straight to their respective boxes to serve unsportsmanlike conduct penalties occurring at the end of the second. Seconds after the puck dropped to get the period going, Schultz put in his second of the game.
Cincinnati was able to secure their first lead of the night past the four-minute mark of the frame. Muzito-Bagenda found defenseman Chris Leone across the ice who took a shot on net. Waiting in the crease, Vaive put the puck in for his second of the night, and fourth of the playoffs.
The Komets were able to answer one of the two goals put on by the home team in the third frame up until the midway point. Gabriel Desjardins took advantage of a poor play by Cyclones goaltender Jonas Johansson who came far outside of his crease in an effort to control the puck, giving the forward an easy opportunity to put in an empty-net goal. His putaway tied the game back up, once again, this time at five apiece.
The Cyclones were able to regain their lead with under seven minutes to go in regulation, as O’Donnell was able to put in his first goal of the playoffs.
In a twist that fell in line with scoring in the previous two periods, the forward’s efforts proved to not be enough, as Shawn Szydlowski put in the equalizer with half a minute to go, sending the game to overtime.
Throughout the regular season, Cincinnati proved to be very good in extra time, and Thursday night’s game proved to be no different, as they came out lighting Houser up with shots from everywhere. Their efforts proved effective, as Atwal secured the win for the home team with a bullet outside of the blueline after Myles Powell forced a turnover to give Cincy control. The Cyclones took the game by a score of 7-6.
The Komets hold the series lead, 2-1. Game four is Saturday night at US Bank Arena. Faceoff is set for 7:35 pm.