All the talk lately had been about Muskegon. Could the Komets still catch up to their rivals in the standings?
But everyone who arrived at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday night made an important realization: The Port Huron Icehawks had better be dealt with first.
And deal the Komets did, defeating the Icehawks 4-3 in front of 7,033 fans.
This was a game we had to have to put some separation between us and Port Huron, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. Having games in hand is not really that comforting. We have to beat them, and this was the last head-on match we had with them, and its going to go a long way to us finishing (at least) in second place.
Unfortunately for the Komets, who had stumbled by getting only seven of a possible 14 points in their previous seven games, the first-place Lumberjacks wont let them back into the race. Muskegon, which defeated Quad City 5-2 Saturday, has 100 points with six games remaining. Fort Wayne, which is chasing a fourth straight regular-season title, has 92 points with seven games left. Port Huron, which has six games remaining, has 88 points.
Port Hurons chances of pulling into a tie with Fort Wayne were thwarted on special teams, where the Komets scored on 3 of 5 power plays.
That was huge, and all those goals came from point shots, said Sims, whose team led 3-1 thanks to those power-play goals. (Goaltender Adam) Russo seemed to struggle with long shots, so we found the net three times and it was a big night for our power play, one of the biggest nights of the year.
Left wing Matt Syroczynski opened the scoring at 16:21, redirecting a Guy Dupuis shot. Port Hurons Kris Vernarsky answered at 11:41 of the second period, during a power play, also on a redirection. Then Dupuis and left wing P.C. Drouin scored on shots from about 50 feet out.
Were going to have to have a couple things happen for us to finish first, Drouin said. But getting at least second place is pretty crucial, so we can get home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. Tonight was a huge game.
After Vernarsky scored his second goal, thanks to teammate Matt Auffreys pass from behind the net, Fort Waynes Sean OConnor scored to make it 4-2.
Port Hurons Mikael Bedard trimmed the lead to one by splitting the defense and beating goaltender Nick Boucher with a backhand shot from the right circle at 3:02 of the third period, but the Komets killed off an Icehawks power play in the final four minutes to cement the victory.
Boucher stopped 26 of 29 shots. Russo, who was yanked after two periods of play, stopped 24 of 28. His replacement, Larry Sterling, stopped all nine shots he faced.
Notes: Boucher was fined an undisclosed amount by the IHL for actions in a 5-4 shootout loss March 28 at Flint, Mich. Boucher angrily smashed his stick against the boards, near a fan. Brad Jones, IHL vice president of hockey operations, said the discipline was for creating a dangerous situation. Boucher apologized to the fan before a 3-1 loss Friday. Dupuis, the Komets captain, tallied his 500th regular-season point with the Komets.