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Ben Smith

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Komets know better than to be content

I know what you’re thinking now, as the puck comes out of the corner and David Hukalo fields it on knee, ending the last hopeless hope. I know what you’re thinking as he steers it up the boards and the clock dives toward zero, and a 2-1 lead becomes a 2-1 win.

You’re thinking this: “Halfway.”

Halfway to the Cup. Halfway to the three-peat. Halfway home.

A 3-2 win followed by a 2-1 win, and now the Fort Wayne Komets are up 2-0 on Flint in the best-of-seven Turner Cup finals. And maybe that is halfway home, and maybe it’s just holding serve.

That’s the thing about a 2-0 lead: You can play it either way.

“Yeah, we’re kind of telling ourselves we’re down 3-1,” says Kevin Bertram, 10 minutes or so after it’s done Monday night, lots of joy in the room but nothing resembling the sort of giddiness you might reasonably expect if you didn’t know any better.

Bertram lifts his head, goes on without looking at you.

“They’re not gonna quit,” he says. “They already showed that in the other series. Even tonight, we knew they were gonna come out harder from the beginning, and they did.”

And now you get some idea why this team has won two Cups in a row, and likely is headed for a third: Because no one in this room thinks it’s likely at all yet. Two wins at home, after all, just means you did what home ice required you to do. And when the two wins come the way these did – both by a single goal; both decided in the third period – it means this series not only isn’t half over, it’s not even half begun.

The paradox of that, of course, is this is exactly the mindset that will finish it. And nowhere has been more starkly evident than in the third period, which is where the Komets won Game 1 on Saturday, and where it won Game 2 on Monday.

Saturday it was Guy Dupuis pumping the go-ahead goal through Rob Nolan just 3:39 in, and then it was the Komets shutting everything down from center ice on back. Monday, P.C. Drouin planted a rebound 5:46 into the third, and it was an instant replay thereafter, the Komets outshooting Flint 15-7 in the third, controlling center ice, clearing the puck out of the defensive zone before the Generals could rev up their forecheck.

It’s ain’t Rembrandt. But how many Cups did he win?

“This is the finals,” Komets coach Al Sims said Monday, unapologetically. “It’s ugly hockey. That’s how they got here, and that’s the way you’ve got to play against them.”

And maybe that’s true and maybe it’s not – even Sims admitted the Komets have “more talent to capitalize on our chances than they do” – but it’s what’s working. And this team didn’t get where it is, and hasn’t been where it’s been, by forsaking what’s working.

And so even when Justin Hodgman lost the puck in front of his own net and it eluded Nick Boucher to give Flint a 1-0 lead Monday, the Komets never strayed from the blueprint. Boucher shrugged and said, hey, it happens. Hodgman apologized and said they’d try to get one back. Business went on in its usual businesslike way.

Halfway home. And, of course, nowhere close.

“We know the next game is gonna be even tougher,” Bertram said. “We’re aware of that in here.”

Only too aware.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by e-mail, bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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