TOLEDO, OH – With the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs wrapped up around the league, Toledo and Fort Wayne dove into the second round with a Saturday night throwdown at the Huntington Center. The visiting Komets were coming off a 4-1 series victory over the Cincinnati Cyclones, while the Walleye looked to continue their perfect postseason after sweeping the Indy Fuel. Starting goaltenders for the contest were Pat Nagle (4-0-0) and Michael Houser (4-0-1).
Like its first-round series against Cincinnati, Fort Wayne came out fast and furious against Toledo. Within four minutes the visitors had put six shots on Nagle and had a power-play opportunity after Kevin Tansey was called for a boarding minor, but Toledo withstood the early attack.
Less than a minute after the first penalty expired Artur Tyanulin gave Toledo its first power play after being called for hooking. Late in the power play, A.J. Jenks came in and shot on Houser, who got a piece of the puck but could only watch as it trickled in behind him. Despite the shots being 6-2, Toledo had struck first at 6:08.
Fort Wayne was quick to respond to the Toledo goal. Just shy of three minutes after Jenks’ goal Fort Wayne came onto the attack, with Marc-Oliver Roy letting a shot go from the top of the faceoff circle. Fellow Komet Ryan Lowney was crossing the front of the net as Roy shot the puck, and had it deflect off of him past Nagle to tie the game up.
Not satisfied with one goal, the Komets took control of the period and unleashed nothing short of an onslaught against the Walleye. Over the next nine minutes, Fort Wayne did not allow a Toledo shot on goal, all the while peppering Nagle with 11 shots on goal. The veteran netminder denied all comers though and bought time for his teammates to regroup. Toledo did have opportunities during this time, including when Shane Berschbach was left alone out front and beat Houser five-hole but rang the shot off the post, but simply couldn’t get more quality shots away due to hesitation, bad shots, and good Fort Wayne defense.
As the period wound down, Toledo once again was put on the man advantage, this time due to a Curtis Leonard roughing call with 1:25 left in the first. After 39 seconds of power-play time, Simon Denis gained possession of the puck and let one fly from inside the blue line. Although looking for a goal, he ended up with his second assist of the night as Jenks once again scored by tipping it past Houser despite contact between the two players. Cody Sol and Houser were quick to go to the referees to argue their case for goaltender interference, but the goal stood to put Toledo ahead 2-1.
Shortly after Colin Jacobs would be sent to the box to give Fort Wayne its second power play, but the period would expire before more scoring could occur. The visitors held a 21-5 shots on goal advantage by the time both squads went to the lockerrooms.
The start of the second saw Toledo kill off the remaining portion of the Jacobs penalty, and then the crowd saw Patrick McCarron go to work. The young defenseman entered the zone trailing Austen Brassard and received a drop pass from the forward. Without hesitation, McCarron fired a laser beam of a shot far side past Houser to give Toledo a 3-1 lead two minutes into the second.
Unfortunately for the home team, that would be the last highlight of the night. Fort Wayne once again responded to the Toledo goal with one of its own. Shawn Szydlowski grabbed the puck from the top of the faceoff circle and skated in through a mass of players, and placed a close-range shot top shelf past Nagle 1:21 after McCarron scored his goal.
Now trailing by one goal, the Komets continued to pressure Nagle as the Walleye defense began to break down. Jacobs and the offense managed a shot on goal but were quickly on the retreat as the Komets charged again. Szydlowski dished the puck to linemate Garrett Thompson who beat Nagle to tie the game at the 5:15 mark.
For the next six minutes, both teams seemed to slow down and catch their respective breath, as there were no shots on goal and a lot of tentative back and forth hockey. You had the sense that the next goal would be crucial to the game’s outcome, and that ended up being the case.
Toledo gained the zone and set up a fantastic play that drew the defense toward the right side of the ice, which allowed Tyler Barnes to sneak to the far side of the net all by himself. A pass made it through the slot to a perfectly positioned Barnes with an open net, but the forward would miss the puck completely on the shot. A Komet odd-man rush resulted afterward and was capped off with a Dennis Kravchenko goal to put Fort Wayne ahead 4-3 with five minutes left in the second.
The remaining portion of the period would yield five more Komet shots on goal, and as time expired Fort Wayne had a 29-8 shots advantage over Toledo. Needless to say, the Komets were in control and had momentum on their side.
Entering the period down by one, Toledo needed a drastic turnaround if it intended to win this game. The period started off promising with early offensive pressure, but it wouldn’t last as the Komet defense stepped up. Houser fended off the few shots he saw, and his offense once again came through for him halfway through the third. Shortly after a Kyle Bonis shot, Fort Wayne once again grabbed the puck and took it up ice into the Toledo zone. The puck found it’s way to the stick of Kravchenko, and once again he blew it past Nagle for a 5-3 Komet lead.
Toledo desperately tried to cut the deficit, as it was able to finally establish an offensive zone presence and put some pressure on Houser. Along with a Cody Sol penalty with 4:12 left in regulation, the opportunity was there for Toledo. Fort Wayne made sure to keep the game out of reach though, as it killed off the penalty and shut down Toledo for the remainder of the game to take a 5-3 victory. Shots on goal finished at 36-15 Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne played with fire throughout the night, while Toledo seemed to be discombobulated and flat. As a result, the top seed finds itself down 1-0 in the series. Sunday afternoon will be here before we know it, and it gives Toledo the chance to tie the series or face the prospect of going down 2-0 heading to Fort Wayne. For the Komets, nothing would be better than the latter scenario.
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