FORT WAYNE – Colin Chaulk on his knees, crawling toward the puck. Now theres a side of metaphor for your morning coffee.
Second period winding down Wednesday night, and here is Chaulk going to the net, Chaulk going down. Heart and soul of the Komets, down on his knees there to the right of Dayton goalie Derek MacIntyre. Heart and soul, crawling now as he instinctively stays after the puck with a season down to scraps and a playoff push thats crawled a little much itself here coming to the tape.
This was a bone-weary team climbing off a bus from Bloomington, Ill., with a game it needed staring at it a handful of hours later, and if you take away anything from Wednesday you take away the fact that, eventually, what it needed it got. Fatigue might have won for a long time, but finally Danny Lapointe got the puck behind MacIntyre and the Komets skated off with a 1-0 win that kept them in seventh place in the Turner Conference and the Gems in eighth.
And now its on to the next thing, which is two final games in two nights starting Friday. And even if they manage to beat first-place Colorado in those last two games, or at least forge a 1-1 draw, no one with a scrap of sense is going to be reminded of those traditional last-month bombing runs that carried them to three straight titles in the IHL.
This team wont come to the playoffs on that kind of roll, or any roll, frankly. That happened, sort of, a month, six weeks ago, when it won 10 of 19 and seemed to have turned the mythical corner. In the month since, its gone 5-9, with a combined plus-minus of minus-51 in the last 10 games.
I guess theres two ways to look at it, Chaulk said when it was done Wednesday. One side is when youre doing well and building, you can look at it and say Hey, its great, the momentum is going, confidence is there. And then the other flip side of it is, when you dont close out well, your comments in the media are, Ah, its a new season, it doesnt matter what happened in the regular season, blah-blah-blah.
Its just a mind game that you play with yourself and your team, really. But, obviously, its just common sense that if youre winning and playing well, its better, right?
Right. And maybe two more games is time enough to instill the winning and playing well, and maybe it isnt. And if it isnt, maybe what you hang onto is that all that mojo from previous late-season runs somehow just missed its connecting flight and got stuck in, I dont know, Puerto Vallarta or someplace, and might yet be on its way.
If so, a deep playoff run might – might – still be possible. Frankie DeAngelis, the teams only all-star, was back on the ice Wednesday. Sean OConnor is back now, too. Matt Krug is a significant late pickup, the team is solid in goal – Nick Boucher kicked out 27 shots to record his second shutout of the year Wednesday, and Kevin Reiter has a 2.81 goals-against in 33 starts – and its power play is the leagues fourth best.
On the other hand, its 0-3 against its two most likely playoff opponents, Colorado and Rapid City, and has been outscored 13-2. So its got that not going for it.
We knew this game was a four-point game for eighth place or seventh place, Komets coach Al Sims said, late Wednesday evening. So that was a big step.
That there hasnt been enough of those steps this season, of course, leaves the question open as to whether it was a big enough step. Or if the Komets still have enough steps in them like it to make the playoffs more than a late-night cruise through the drive-through.
(When youre winning), youre not gripping your stick as tight, youre playing with confidence, Chaulk said Wednesday. Those are all positives.
And, to date at least, elusive.