FORT WAYNE – The Komets came into Saturday night having won 12 of 14 games. The Evansville IceMen had lost 25 of 32.
The outcome should have been easily predictable then, right? Wrong.
The Komets came out flat and finished that way, losing 5-3 to the last-place IceMen, who got goals from left wing Brian Bicek, defenseman Mario Larocque and left wing Jeff Christian, 2 minutes, 10 seconds apart, in the final four minutes of the third period.
“There’s no excuse for this happening,” Komets center Leo Thomas said. “We needed these points, and there’s no excuse for giving up three goals in the last four minutes like that. We were turning the puck over, making dumb plays, and we can’t be (expletive) doing that.”
The Komets (25-21-5) are 3-3-1 against the expansion IceMen this season, and they remain two points back of Wichita for sixth place in the Turner Conference, though the Thunder have a later game against Colorado. The IceMen (17-28-8) are 10 points back of Dayton for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
Did the Komets take the IceMen lightly?
“No, not really,” forward Mathieu Curadeau said. “This game was really important for us and there’s absolutely no excuse for the way we came out and the way we turned over the puck tonight.”
The IceMen, who had been on a seven-game winless streak, were energized early and tallied eight of the first 11 shots on goal. The one that found the net wasn’t, technically, even on goal. Defenseman Jordan Little blasted the puck from just inside the blue line, it caromed off the boards behind the net, hit goaltender Nick Boucher in the ankle and trickled in for a 1-0 lead 9:18 into the first period.
Thirteen seconds into a power play, at 12:58, the Komets answered on left wing Tab Lardner’s shot from the bottom of the right circle.
The IceMen regained their lead during a 2-on-1 rush, when right wing Chris Campanele snapped a shot from the right circle past Boucher at 4:32 of the second period. The Komets answered during a power play at 7:17, as center Danny Lapointe redirected a Brandon Warner shot past goaltender Jeff Harvey.
Warner had missed the previous five games with a shoulder injury, but he came back to fill the void left by defenseman Michael Ratchuk, who was called up to Springfield of the American Hockey League after Friday’s 4-1 victory over Quad City.
Center Colin Chaulk scored what the 8,279 Fort Wayne fans hoped would be the game-winning goal at 5:20 of the third period. Attacking the net, Chaulk lost his balance and was falling to the ice, as he redirected Derek Patrosso’s shot from 45 feet out for a 3-2 lead.
As the fans celebrated, Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock kept them energized by dismantling Little in a fight.
With tensions still high, 40-year-old Christian, who was in his second game with the IceMen, drew a major penalty for elbowing Fort Wayne’s all-star defenseman, Frankie DeAngelis, at 9:13. (DeAngelis didn’t return and is unlikely to play Sunday at Dayton because of a head injury). The IceMen successfully killed off the ensuing power play, and then they got the equalizer from Bicek’s close-range shot at 16:43.
“We made some mistakes,” Curadeau said. “Lately, we’ve been pretty good in the neutral zone, haven’t been having many turnovers in the neutral zone. Tonight, we tried to carry the puck too often sometimes, even if it wasn’t there, and we paid for it.”
Boucher (16-12-4) stopped 25 of 29 shots. Harvey (3-5-2) stopped 30 of 33 shots.
Notes: The Komets wore jerseys honoring the Indiana National Guard, and they were auctioned off for $12,149, benefiting the Indiana National Guard Relief Fund. Curadeau’s sold for $850, while Craig Cescon’s and Schrock’s went for $800. … Before the game, eight people were sworn in to the National Guard. … The Komets played without defenseman Danko Mironovic and forward Artem Podshendyalov.