PORT HURON, Mich. – Komets coach Al Sims had a hunch center Leo Thomas was due to score. After watching Thomas net a team-best 33 goals during the regular season, Sims felt there was no way Thomas would be contained for an entire series.
So Sims kept playing Thomas, and it paid off Saturday, when Thomas started the scoring and finished it, too, in a 4-3 victory over the Port Huron Icehawks, which sent the best-of-seven IHL semifinals back to Memorial Coliseum for tonights Game 7.
I was hoping, with Leo being so streaky, that he would get one at some point, Sims said. It took him until the sixth game to do it, to get one. Hopefully, hes got his confidence for Game 7.
The game winner came after defenseman Kevin Bertram took a shot from just inside the blue line. Thomas redirected the bouncing puck past rookie goaltender Raffaele DOrso with 2.1 seconds remaining at McMorran Arena.
It continued yet another miraculous postseason run for the Komets, who trailed the best-of-seven series 3-1.
The Komets successfully recovered from 3-1 deficits in 2005, defeating the Rockford IceHogs in the United Hockey League semifinals, and 2008, ousting the Icehawks in the Turner Cup finals.
It was also evidence of the Komets resiliency. They had taken a 3-2 lead at 14:39 of the third period, when center Colin Chaulk netted a wrist shot from about 35 feet out. But the Icehawks responded just 1:08 later, when forward Mike Kinnie wrapped the puck in from behind the net.
We knew we couldnt let this faze us, Thomas said. We knew it was going to be a back-and-forth series. Im proud of every guy in this whole room because we dont quit and its paying off right now.
Even after Kinnie scored and got the home crowd rocking, the Komets didnt change their strategy.
We thought, if we just kept playing the same way, wed get the fourth goal, Sims said. We had led almost the whole game by one and (then again) by one. We always found a way to get ahead by one. I didnt think it would end with 2.1 seconds to go, but well take it. It was a great backdoor tip from Leo. What can you say? We found a way to get it done.
The Komets success can clearly be linked to Thomas offensive production in this series. They lost all three games Thomas went scoreless in, while hes got two goals and six points in the victories.
It was a little frustrating not scoring, Thomas said. You want to help your team out as much as you can, but Ive just tried to focus on doing other things to help the team when Im not scoring. I knew I was going to have a break-out game one of the games in the series. I just focused on good defense, penalty kill and I knew the goals would come. They couldnt shut down me, (linemates P.C. Drouin and Sean OConnor) for the whole series.
Its likely the Komets will face DOrso again, as a head injury has kept Icehawks star Larry Sterling out of all but one of the last seven periods. With Thomas seemingly out of his doldrums – he has two goals, four points and eight shots in the last two games – DOrso had better be prepared to take on one of the IHLs best snipers.
They had better watch out for Leo in Game 7, Sims said.