TOLEDO, Ohio – Down 3-2 in the Central Division Finals, Toledo traveled to Fort Wayne Tuesday night to stave off elimination at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The Komets looked to close out the series and return to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2016. As both the teams and fans settled in for a wild ride, Pat Nagle and Michael Houser took the creases for game 6.
After an early shot by Kyle Bonis, Fort Wayne’s offense once again showed it’s ability to control the pace following a Patrick McCarron penalty after one minute of play. For the next ten minutes, the Komets would pepper Nagle with eight shots, with the second shot beating the netminder as Mason Baptista recovered a rebound to give the home team the lead after six minutes of action.
In a similar fashion as the start of the game, a penalty against Shawn Szydlowski at 12:31 would be the spark needed to get Toledo’s offense going. In six minutes, Houser was bombarded with nine shots. In his second game back with Toledo, Zach Nastasiuk made his presence known on the power-play by tying the game up at one with four seconds left on the man-advantage.
Two minutes later, Toledo would strike again thanks to Austen Brassard. The Walleye kept the pressure on Fort Wayne after tying the game in a great offensive series that was capped off by the Brassard goal at 16:46.
Now down by a goal, Fort Wayne had to respond. Less than 20 seconds after the second goal by Toledo, Beau Schmitz was sent to the box for hooking. As a result, Jason Binkley was able to tie the game up at two on the power play with 1:47 remaining. The first period would expire with the contest tied at two.
The second period began with more fleet-of-foot action from both teams. Opportunities presented themselves for either side, but each netminder stood tall to keep the game tied early. Schmitz took another penalty early in the period, but the penalty kill unit of Toledo was able to negate it. Fort Wayne also had to kill off a penalty, as Baptista was called for tripping at 7:14. No goals would result from either, but the Komets would get one soon after.
As the penalty to Baptista expired, the Komets turned it up ice and entered Toledo’s zone. Soon after Nagle took a Ryan Culkin shot, he gave up a juicy rebound in the slot. A mad scramble between members of both teams would follow. Eventually, it squirted out to the left side of the net to where Gabriel Desjardins was waiting and roofed it past a sprawling Nagle at 10:01 to give the Komets a 3-2 lead.
Six minutes of back-and-forth hockey would follow until there was another shot on goal. In the final four minutes of the second, six more shots on goal would occur, with five of them going to Fort Wayne shooters. No goals would be scored though, as the game remained 3-2 as the second came to a close.
Toledo started off the third period staring down elimination and went to work attempting to tie the game. Each team exchanged offensive zone barrages, while each netminder kept it a one-goal game. As the clock wound down, Toledo received one last power-play with 12 minutes remaining as Dennis Kravchenko was called for hooking. The Fort Wayne penalty kill came up big though, as it limited Toledo to only one shot on goal during the man-advantage. Despite the best offensive barrages from Toledo yet, Houser continued to make remarkable saves and preserve the one-goal lead.
As the clock ticked, down the Walleye got desperate to tie the game. Time-and-time again pucks got through to Houser, but he kept them out. With less than three minutes in regulation Walleye head coach Dan Watson began to try and get Nagle off the ice. Fort Wayne prevented it from happening until there was about 1:50 left in the game. As soon as Nagle was off, the Komets took advantage. A center-ice turnover led to Baptista passing across the ice to a wide open Szydlowski, who would bang home the empty netter for the 4-2 Komet lead with 1:12 remaining. Toledo’s hopes were completely dashed with 32 seconds to go when Schmitz was once again sent to the box. The time ran out on Toledo’s season, and Fort Wayne claimed the game and series 4-2 to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Michael Houser was without a doubt the Komet MVP this series, with a .919 save percentage throughout the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs, it’s no wonder why the Walleye had so much trouble against him. The game 4 performance was the turning point in the series, as the netminder’s performance stole the game from Toledo and gave Fort Wayne the momentum it needed to take over the series.
Fort Wayne will meet the defending Kelly Cup Champions in the Western Conference Finals.
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