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Komets gets boost from 2 struggling forwards

– 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.

“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,” Thomas said.

Evansville (17-29-9) left wing Braden Desmet began the scoring with a breakaway goal 3:04 into the game. Fort Wayne right wing Derek Patrosso scored a power-play goal off a redirection 18 seconds into the second period.

Desmet got a redirection goal at 11:54 for a 2-1 lead. The Komets answered when forwards Mathieu Curadeau and Danny Lapointe broke out on a 2-on-1 rush. Curadeau sent a cross-ice pass to Lapointe, whose one-timer caromed off the post, then off the back of Lundin before creeping in at 18:51 to tie it at 2.

Evansville left wing Mark Cody flipped a rebound into the top of the net, while he fell to the ice, for a 3-2 lead at 1:07 of the third period. But Komets center Colin Chaulk answered by steering around defenseman Adam Knopp and blasting a shot under the arm of Lundin (12-18-5) at 9:45.