LOVELAND, Colo. – After falling down 2-1 in the Western Conference Final, the Colorado Eagles came back strong to win Games 4 and 5 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. With a 3-2 series lead heading back to Loveland, the Eagles were poised and ready to take down the Fort Wayne Komets and move on to the Kelly Cup Final.
Colorado couldn’t close the deal, however, as Fort Wayne came in and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 for Wednesday night.
The Komets did not surrender the series simply because they were on the road, notching a victory in Game 6 Tuesday night in what took every period of play to make that all-important seventh game a surety. Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma, defenseman Bobby Shea, and left winger Garrett Thompson all made the score sheet for Fort Wayne, while Colorado’s Cliff Watson and Julien Nantel earned tallies for the Eagles in the losing effort.
The first period showcased solid defensive effort from both squads, with sticks poke-checking pucks away on the backcheck and bodies getting in front of pucks for blocked shots. Colorado playmakers Michael Joly and Shawn St-Amant single-handedly generated chances on net with driving plays on Komets goaltender Michael Houser, but both Eagles forwards were turned away and stifled on rebounds by the Komets’ defense. Colorado netminder Joe Cannata mirrored Houser in his steadfast netminding, turning away the likes of Shawn Szydlowski and Jamie Schaafsma early on.
The Eagles got on the board late in the first when former Utah Grizzlies skaters Ryan Olsen and Cliff Watson hooked up for the assist and goal, respectively. Olsen cut behind the net after claiming the puck from a Julien Nantel-Mason Baptista scrap in the corner, seeing Watson down low on the left wing. The rookie from Michigan Tech then fired a sharp-angle shot, squeezing in a goal at 19:02 of the first period to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.
Heading into the second period, Colorado led in shots on goal (8 to 6) before getting left in the dust by Fort Wayne. Initially, Cannata stood tall in net, highlighted by a sequence of four saves in five seconds at the 3:40 mark. After both teams killed off interference minors midway through the period (Cody Sol at 6:02 and Nicolas Meloche at 10:22,) Fort Wayne’s Jamie Schaafsma received a pass from Szydlowski on the shallow right wing. Schaafsma, having a step on Colorado defenseman Matt Register, proceeded to deke in front of Cannata and place a shot top shelf to tie the game, 1-1, at 14:13 of the second.
Meloche was sent off for hooking at 16:09 of period two, but his impact was immediate after the Eagles killed off his minor penalty. Emerging from the box, the Colorado Avalanche prospect gained puck possession, wrapping around the net before losing possession in front. Luckily, Nantel was perched on the doorstep, gaining control of the puck off his skate before lifting his shot above Houser’s right pad to give Colorado the lead again at 18:21 of the second period.
Fort Wayne was quick to quell the Eagles’ building momentum heading into the second intermission, as defenseman Bobby Shea capitalized on a Colorado turnover deep in their own zone. Shea received a pass from Szydlowski after he drew the defense to the corner, giving the Michigan native a wide-open wrist shot that zipped past Cannata glove-side to once again knot the game up at 18:54, this time at two goals apiece.
The Komets made good where the Eagles could not in the third, leading in shots on goal for the period (9 to 3) and capitalizing on rebounds while stonewalling Colorado’s. Garrett Thompson drove home one of those rebounds off of a Jason Binkley fadeaway shot from the blue line, catching Cannata way out of position and giving Fort Wayne their first and only lead of the night at 4:57 of the third.
Colorado tried their best to get pucks on Houser in the final period but to no avail. Even when pulling Cannata for an extra skater in the waning minutes of regulation generated some solid scoring opportunities for the Eagles, only three shots on goal were tallied for Colorado in the third, as Fort Wayne held off a frustrated Eagles attack to take Game 6 by a score of 3-2.
News of Note:
For the first time in this series, both teams drew blanks on the power play. Fort Wayne went 0-for-3, their first game in the Western Conference Final without a power-play goal, while Colorado was also held fruitless on the man-advantage, going 0-for-2. Heading into game 7, Fort Wayne’s power-play is to 8-for-30 on the series, good for an outstanding 26.7% conversion rate. In comparison, Colorado’s overall 1-for-25 power play provides a success rate of a meager 4%.
Game 7 will be played tonight at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, CO at 7:05 pm MT. Follow along on Twitter, as @SinBinEagles will have your live updates and coverage for the conclusive game of the Western Conference Final!