MOLINE, IL – The Quad City Mallards and Fort Wayne Komets began a home-and-home series in Moline on Friday for a preview of their playoff series. The Mallards are currently without AHL talent Adam Gilmour and Alex Petan, as well as top defenseman Alex Gudbranson, who is currently with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. Andrew Panzarella, Brady Brassart, and Grant Arnold were also missing on Friday night. Those missing players apparently play a large role on the team, either separately or together as a unit, because Friday’s game boded ill for the third-seeded Mallards’ playoff performance.

The visitors dominated through much of the game, tallying 21 shots on goal in the first period compared to the Mallards’ 11. The match-up wasn’t as physical as some of the teams’ other battles during the season, most likely due to the fact that the players didn’t want to get injured before the real fun begins next week. A physical game wouldn’t have changed the final outcome, anyways. The Mallards stepped their game up in the second period, but it still seemed like Fort Wayne’s game.

Mike Cazzola netted his first goal of the game just under five minutes into the opening frame, Mike Embach and Jason Binkley assisting. The puck went top shelf as C.J. Motte tried to make the save; Motte fell on his face as he swept the glove into the air, leaving the cookie jar wide open. The Mallards almost tied the game with two minutes and 14 seconds remaining in the frame, but it was not to be. Garrett Bartus made the save with his knees, the puck spinning on the goal line between his pillows. A Komet player swept the puck forward, and Bartus reached back to cover his five-hole. The whistle blew and the red light went on, but it wasn’t a goal. The fans disagreed with the call, because of course they would, but watching the replay it was clear the puck never crossed the line.

Another good scoring chance for the Mallards was ruined by an early whistle, when a shot from the slot landed between Bartus’ legs. The referee blew the whistle while the puck was clearly loose, as the Mallards shot it into the net, but the whistle meant a dead play. The Mallards were finally able to get on the board at 17 minutes and 16 seconds of the middle frame, when Chris Francis shot from the left side of Bartus. Francis’ shot bounced off Bartus’ right pillow and straight to Jack Nevins, who managed to slide the puck in while he was falling. Guillaume Gelinas assisted on Nevins’ goal as well.

The last ten minutes of the game saw an onslaught of scoring, five goals finding twine in that timespan. Mason Baptista put the Komets up two to one a little over eight minutes into the last period, the puck bouncing off a linesman to Baptista for the bar-down shot. A little under two minutes later, Baptista assisted on Travis Ewanyk’s goal. Baptista won the face-off to Motte’s left, sending the puck to Ewanyk to score.

The Mallards continued their attempted rally shortly after, Sam Warning scoring with help from Justin Kovacs and Kevin Gibson. Warning received the puck just before the blue line from Kovacs, streaking in towards Bartus. Warning darted left to lift the puck over the blocker as he fell.

Two minutes and change later, Cazzola netted another goal, this time unassisted, for the game-winner, but that was not the last goal to be scored. With 5.6 seconds left, Cazzola earned the hat-trick on an empty net. Embach appeared as though he would tally the goal, streaking towards the gaping cage with the puck on his stick, but unselfishly dished to Cazzola to finish the scoring play.

The two teams face off again on Saturday in Fort Wayne at 6:30 CST. The playoffs begin in Fort Wayne next Friday and Saturday the 14th and 15th, Friday’s at 7 and Saturday’s at 6:30.

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