FORT WAYNE, Ind. — After a standout performance from their goaltender Michael Houser on Wednesday night, the Fort Wayne Komets wanted to have a repeat of the results and take a commanding 3-1 lead in the ECHL Western Conference Final. The Colorado Eagles looked to stay disciplined and out of penalty trouble as the Fort Wayne power play has killed them in this series. Another goaltending battle ensued, and the teams once again traded chances throughout the night.
As play began, neither team could establish a rhythm or gain the upper hand as turnovers and rushes ruled, but once again the goalies kept the teams off the board. Colorado got the game’s first two shots and then as Fort Wayne was building momentum the puck bounced free in the crease behind Eagles goaltender Joe Cannata, however, no Komet players were able to poke the puck into the net and the Eagles were able to clear.
Approaching the midpoint of the contest, Colorado entered the zone on a 3-on-2 rush. Travis Barron gained the offensive line and dropped a pass to center point to Jake Marto. Marto snapped a pass to Michael Joly in the right faceoff circle. Joly fired the one-time pass from the faceoff dot and behind Houser on the stick side at 9:39. With the goal, Colorado gained the lead for the first time during gameplay. The Eagles win in game one was an overtime game-winner.
Three minutes later, Joly would extend the Eagles lead. Teammate Matt Garbowsky gained the blue and skated around the defender on him and crossed the slot left to right. Houser followed across the crease, Garbowsky passed the puck back and across the slot to a wide-open Joly who directed it into the net behind Houser for his second of the night and eighth of the playoffs.
Fort Wayne tried to respond with a few good chances but Cannata stood his ground and turned the Komets away.
In the second period, neither team scored. Though shots read 13-9, Colorado seemed able to control the play through most of the period, getting multiple high-quality chances. Fort Wayne was able to get a few chances but played a lot of the period in the defensive zone. Most chances were one and done type chances. The Eagles also controlled the play out of the faceoff dot, winning most of the faceoffs in the frame.
Just over ten and a half minutes into the second period the Eagles were shooting, getting rebounds and keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Houser made save after save, keeping the game close.
Three minutes later it was Fort Wayne getting the chance with 2018 ECHL MVP Shawn Szydlowski hammering a one-timer from just below the hash marks in the left faceoff circle. Cannata slid post-to-post and made a huge save to keep the Komets off the board on their best opportunity to that point in the game.
To start the third, Fort Wayne had a minute and six seconds of powerplay time. The Komets only needed 33 seconds to cut the Colorado lead in half. Trevor Cheek took a shot that Cannata saved with the leg pad. The rebound went out into the left faceoff circle. Jason Binkley skated to the puck and flipped the puck into the net over a sprawling Cannata. Ryan Culkin picked up an assist on Binkley’s third goal of the playoffs.
After the goal, Fort Wayne came to life and started to gain some control of the play. The Komets attempted six of the first seven shots in the period and took the lead in shots on goal. While trying to find the tying goal late in the period, Fort Wayne took a penalty for tripping against Gabriel Desjardins. With around a minute to play, Houser would make it to the bench for the extra man. A final faceoff with 1.8 seconds on the clock and Garbowsky won it to the end boards killing the clock and tying the series at two.
The Eagles finished the game 0-for-6 on the power play, while the Komets were 1-for-2. Cannata made 33 saves on 34 shots picking up his tenth win of the playoffs improving to 10-3-1. Houser suffered the tough-luck loss making 28 saves on 30 shots falling to 9-3-2 in the postseason.
The best-of-seven now stands at two wins a side with game five Saturday night from the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, IN. Faceoff set for 7:30 p.m.