MOLINE, IL – Never say the impossible isn’t possible.
Facing playoff extinction, the Quad City Mallards proved they had some magic yet left in them for Friday night’s do or die game against the Fort Wayne Komets, winning in a heart-stopping, nail-biting, nerve-wracking overtime period that was 16 seconds away from headed to a second overtime period.
After being swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Missouri Mavericks last season, the team didn’t want to suffer that fate again. To get swept after earning the most wins in a season in almost ten years, and seeing their bench boss Terry Ruskowski relieved of his duties and replaced by then assistant coach Phil Axtell partway through the season, would be an ignominious end.
In perhaps an omen of the end result, Josh MacDonald scored just 31 seconds after the opening face-off. Andrew Panzarella and Alex Petan assisted on the opening goal, which went from right side to left side on Pat Nagle. Panzarella passed from the left corner around the boards to MacDonald, who stood along the right boards halfway between the blue-line and the face-off dot.
Seven and a half minutes later, Dan Milan would be whistled for delay of game after shooting the puck out of play in his own zone just past the face-off dots. That wasn’t the least of what happened about eight minutes into the game, however. The puck sailed through the air and struck a woman sitting just outside the Mallards’ defensive zone above the brow, just three rows up from the glass. Security rushed to her aid, napkins at the ready to staunch the blood. A paramedic arrived shortly after, wrapping her head in gauze before escorting her away. Behind Mallards goalie C.J. Motte, a stanchion that held the glass in place had come loose. Arena crew worked furiously to fix the issue as play continued, eventually bringing some type of bungee cord to brace the top of the glass to the two pieces on either side of it.
After the horn sounded to send the two teams to their respective locker rooms, a tussle broke out at the Komets’ blue-line. Kevin Gibson and Travis Ewanyk exchanged some pleasantries and some shoving, and both found themselves in the penalty boxes to start the second period. Gibson was charged with slashing, while Ewanyk had a roughing penalty. It was while both had 48 seconds remaining to serve that the Mallards added to their lead, Mike Wilson netting his first goal of the playoffs with help from Brady Brassart and MacDonald. MacDonald and Brassart batted the puck back and forth as they skated down the offensive zone, one taking a shot. Wilson swooped in to pick up the rebound, firing into the gaping net. But the Komets came back, proving they wouldn’t be content with going to a fifth game.
Jason Binkley ended Motte’s shutout bid at 4:46 into the middle frame, with Kyle Thomas and Mike Cazzola assisting. Five minutes later, Jamie Schaafsma tied the game on the power-play. Shawn Szydlowski and Ryan Lowney picked up the apples on that unusual tally, as while Nolan LaPorte was already in the box for slashing, there was a delayed penalty against Brassart waiting to be called. Because the next stoppage of play was the goal, Brassart’s slashing penalty was awarded at the same time as the goal.
The third period was uneventful, though not calm by any means. The two teams played a physical game throughout the night, and seemed to have finally found the line the officials would call penalties for and toed it. There were many chances throughout the final frame for either team to break the tie, but neither was able to capitalize.
For the second game in a row, extra time would be required to determine a winner, though this time, fans hoped for a longer performance than Wednesday’s 22-second long overtime session. The Komets had many opportunities to send the Mallards to the golf course, but Motte was able to stand strong throughout the frame. Through the night, both goalies had made stupendous saves to keep their teams in the game. In fact, both made 36 saves on the night.
In a blur of orange and black, Sam Warning netted the game-winning goal with 15.2 seconds remaining in the first overtime, with Brassart and Chris Leibinger assisting. Leibinger made a strong play to keep a clearing attempt in the Komets zone and saucered a pass to Brassart, who fired a shot in Nagle. Warning was “Johnny-on-the-spot” to clean up the rebound and force a game five tonight.
Game five is tonight at 7 pm at the iWireless Center, when the Mallards will continue to try to win four games in a row.
Is the impossible possible? Why yes, yes it is.