Leo Thomas hadn't been scoring. Artem Podshendyalov hadn't even been in the lineup.
But they teamed up to get the game-winning goal, with 1.4 seconds remaining in overtime, as the Komets defeated the CHL-worst Evansville IceMen 4-3 at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday night.
(See this exclusive video of the goal.)
"This was huge," said Komets coach Al Sims, whose 26-22-5 team pulled within three points of Wichita for sixth place in the Turner Conference. "I thought we were going to the shootout. We dressed Artie for a reason – for offense – and that's exactly what he brought. He just made an NHL type pass backdoor to Leo, the one guy we needed to score a goal, and he scored the biggest goal of the night.
Thomas, a center, had been the Komets' leading scorer with 11 goals and 20 points before he suffered an ankle injury Dec. 31. In the 10 games since returning from injured reserve, he had only two goals and no assists.
"You get frustrated … but all you've got to do is keep working hard," Thomas said. "That's what I do. If I've got to throw 20 hits a game to get the guys going, I'll do it. (The frustration level) was getting pretty high, though, I'm not going to lie."
With time running out in front of 5,286 fans – the smallest crowd of the season at the Coliseum – a Thomas shot from 40 feet out was deflected into the left corner, where Podshendyalov, a rookie left wing and healthy scratch the previous eight games, rocketed a crossing pass back to Thomas. Thomas swatted it underneath goaltender Matt Lundin, who stopped 44 of 48 shots.
"That felt awesome. It was a perfect pass by Artie. It reminded be of the playoffs last year, just backdoor, open," said Thomas, who scored a similar goal in Game 6 of the IHL semifinals with 2.1 seconds remaining at Port Huron, Mich.
It ended a frustrating 9 1/4 periods of hockey for the Komets, who fell to visiting Evansville 5-3 on Saturday night – all-star defenseman Frankie DeAngelis was concussed on an elbow by Jeff Christian – and were throttled 8-0 at Dayton on Sunday.