The final two games of the regular season had no bearing on postseason position for the Fort Wayne Komets, but the team certainly didn’t treat them as meaningless.
They won them both, with center Colin Chaulk stripping the puck from a pair of Flint Generals in their own territory during the third period Sunday night, then beating goaltender Rob Nolan on a breakaway for a 2-1 victory in the regular-season finale.
No, we definitely didn’t want to take it easy going into the playoffs, left wing P.C. Drouin said. You get some bad habits when you do that. We knew we’d get a tough matchup from (the Generals) since it was a game they needed. It wasn’t an easy one.
Despite losing, the Generals nabbed the final playoff spot because Bloomington collapsed with six losses down the stretch, including a 4-1 loss to Port Huron on Sunday.
Flint, which is on a 6-1-1 surge, will take on top-seeded Muskegon in the semifinals, while second-seeded Fort Wayne opens against Port Huron on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
Before then, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims must determine which of his goaltenders will start Game 1.
Nick Boucher, who backstopped the Komets to the last two playoff championships, would have seemed the logical choice because of his play down the stretch, but he came out of Sunday’s game after stopping 13 shots in the first period because of a shoulder injury. Tim Haun, the IHL Goaltender of the Year who has played only twice since returning from a concussion, stopped 15 of 16 shots against the Generals (33-36-7).
Haun was bested only by left wing Pascal Rheaume, who netted a power-play goal from the bottom of the right circle at 6:29 of the second period. That was 40 seconds after Fort Wayne defenseman Guy Dupuis beat Nolan with a bouncing shot from the right dasher boards at center ice, shocking the 10,480 fans in attendance.
We haven’t lost in (regulation time in) eight games, said Sims, whose team went 50-21-5 in the regular season. Last year, we didn’t win our games like this, heading into the playoffs. Going down the stretch and losing only one in a shootout, it’s really positive for the mental part of the team and their psyche.
The Komets went 6-5-0 against Port Huron during the regular season. This will be their first playoff meeting since 2008, when the Komets trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven Turner Cup Finals but came back to win in triple overtime of Game 7 on a Justin Hodgman goal.
As for the Generals, their postseason will be celebrated in Michigan because the team was a woeful 22-47-7 last season, seemed out of the playoff race just weeks ago and has had to endure a number of off-ice issues, according to The Flint Journal, including players having to buy their own equipment and receiving eviction notices at their apartments.
It’s unclear whether the Generals will field a professional hockey team next season, as Flint has been in negotiations with the North American Hockey League, a junior circuit. Muskegon will also be going to juniors in the United States Hockey League.
With all the uncertainty within the IHL, it’s possible this will be the Komets’ final run toward a Turner Cup, though team officials say they remain focused on being in this league next season.