CINCINNATI, OH – If you were at U.S. Bank Arena on Friday night, it was a very, very late night for you. Game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the Cincinnati Cyclones and Fort Wayne Komets got underway at 7:33pm EST. A winner was not decided until 11:33pm EST; 27 minutes shy of passing midnight. It took 95 minutes of hockey for somebody to claim a win. A long four hour grind went the way of Fort Wayne to tie this series at 2-2 and force at least a game six back in Indiana on Monday night.
Cincinnati got the scoring started 3:45 into the first period as Andrew Yogan forced a turnover in the Komets zone off of Cody Sol, and got it to Jack Downing in the high slot, who snaps his 2nd goal of the playoffs to make it 1-0 Cincinnati.
Late in the 2nd, the Cyclones would extend their lead to a pair. Levko Koper, making his professional playoff debut, went 2-on-1 with Christiaan Minella, got it to Minella for the tap-in, earning his first pro playoff assist to make it 2-0 Cincinnati. It didn’t take the Komets to long; in fact, just under two minutes. With under ten seconds to go, on the power play, Troy Bourke would knock in a third chance opportunity to get the K’s on the board to draw within 2-1.
The Komets would again make use of the man advantage in the 3rd period to get the equalizer, from the same person. Troy Bourke picked up a loose puck at the top of the circle, and beat Cincinnati netminder, Brad Thiessen short-side to tie it at 2-2, forcing overtime for the first time in this series.
It would take until 4:40 was left on the clock in double overtime for somebody to score the game-winner. It was in the form of Alex Belzile, slamming a pass from Paul Crowder past Thiessen to win it for Fort Wayne, tying the series at two.
He only got a third start, but quite honestly, he deserves the first star three games in a row for the effort he put in tonight. After getting lit up on Wednesday night in that 8-0 loss, Thiessen returned between the pipes tonight for Cincinnati, and absolutely stood on his head. After all was said and done, he had 53 saves on 56 Fort Wayne shots. That is completely asinine. I think even Fort Wayne can give a nice stick tap to Mr. Thiessen for that kind of a performance. Had Thiessen not played lights out like he did, Fort Wayne probably would’ve won in regulation without the need for forcing overtime.
The ECHL has implemented a two-referee system for the entirety of the Kelly Cup Playoffs this season, as opposed to only using it in the Conference Final and Kelly Cup Final, like they’ve done in years past. There was definitely some questionable officiating on both sides of the ice. A total of 12 penalties were called, seven on Cincinnati, and five on Fort Wayne. So, that’s 24 penalty minutes. Almost half of the game, somebody was either a man-down on were playing 4-on-4. I’m a firm believer that the officials need to swallow the whistle more in these situations. It is the playoffs. They need to let the guys play, and let them decide it. Only call a penalty if you absolutely have to; if it’s going to prevent a scoring chance and possibly effect the outcome of a game. Which leads to me to my next point…
There was a bit of controversy before Belzile scored the game-winner. Moments before the rush that led to that Belzile goal, Andrew Yogan split the Fort Wayne defense and was about to go in on a clean breakaway before being clearly hauled down from behind by a Komet defensemen. This is a case where the penalty needs to be called.
Am I saying this is the main reason the Cyclones lost tonight? No. I’m just making a point for future references.
At one point, Cincinnati was being out-shot by Fort Wayne 41-14. The final shot totals were 56-31 Fort Wayne. The Cyclones really laid back after getting an early lead, and went into that “defensive shell” that will blow up in your face 99.9% of the time. Tonight, as expected, it did.
We can sit here and debate all day but, the fact that the series is tied at two and going back to Fort Wayne on Monday night cannot be changed. It’s how the Cyclones respond in game five on Saturday night that matters most. Cincinnati absolutely cannot afford to go back into Fort Wayne’s building needing two wins. It’s so important to get the win in game five, and only need one win in Fort Wayne, “crucial” is an understatement to describe its importance.