WEST VALLEY CITY, UT – Looking to keep their season alive, the Utah Grizzlies gave the Fort Wayne Komets all they could handle Friday night.
But, as Fort Wayne has shown time and time again in these 2016 playoffs, their depth and resiliency overmatched the opposition.
Utah came out and established their tone early in the game, throwing pucks and bodies in the direction of Komets’ netminder Pat Nagle, who was forced to make several big saves — including one on Ryan Hayes — early on.
Just over four minutes into the game, Shawn Szydlowski finished off a give-and-go pass with Alex Belzile to give the Komets a 1-0 lead. It was the third time this series the K’s have scored the game’s first goal.
Utah would answer three minutes later when Hayes sent a puck through Nagle’s five-hole to level the game at 1 during a 5-on-3 power play.
Garrett Thompson would cap a hectic first period, when he deposited a loose puck by Mark Owuya at 18:33 to give Fort Wayne a 2-1 lead.
The Komets’ would get a two-man advantage of their own in the second period, and like Utah the period before, they would capitalize on it. Trevor Cheek fired a backhand shot to beat Owuya and expand the Komet lead to 3-1 at 7:39 of the period.
But, Utah get back into the game. On a power play, Hayes would score his second goal of the night at 11:14 of the period to narrow the deficit to one.
Fort Wayne thought it had a Troy Bourke goal on a shot from the right circle at 14:20 but it was waved off because a Komets player had run into Owuya before the puck entered the net. And the Grizzlies came close to tying it at 5:32 of the third period, when Kenton Helgesen’s backhand shot at the end of a 2-on-1 rush was stopped by Nagle.
Grizzlies defenseman Marc Cantin fired a seeing-eye shot through traffic, which tied the game at 3 just over 6-and-a-half minutes into the final period.
But, the depth and resiliency for Fort Wayne proved to be too much.
Garrett Thompson scored the game and series-winning goal just 100 seconds after Cantin’s game-tying effort. Thompson fired a wrist shot which beat Owuya bottom glove-side to give the Komets a 4-3 lead.
“It didn’t take long for Garrett to go down there and get a heck of a shot. It was really well placed and you could hear it as soon as it went in. It was perfectly placed. How quickly we responded really helped out the bench,” Graham told the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette’s Justin Cohn. “And then we didn’t give them much at the end.”
A Szydlowski empty-net effort with 15 seconds left salted away the game for the Komets, they won 5-3.
The Komets advance to their first conference or league championship series since 2012, when they played Wichita in the CHL President’s Cup Finals. They will face the winner of the Missouri/Allen series, where the Americans are up 3-1 and have a chance to eliminate the Brabham Cup champs on Sunday afternoon.
“Honestly, I don’t really think it matters who we face,” said Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma. “They’re (Allen and Missouri) both really good teams. Obviously, home-ice advantage would be nice. There is that. But either way, we know we’re in the conference finals. It’s the top four teams in the ECHL and they’re all very, very good and there for a reason.”