The Komets came into this weekend hoping to avoid the eighth and lowest seed in the CHL's Turner Conference.
Amazingly, they wound up nabbing the sixth seed – they hadn't been that high in the standings all season long – and they will meet Rapid City, Bloomington or Missouri in the first round of the postseason.
The Komets went 1-0-1 on back-to-back nights against the conference-leading Colorado Eagles, including a 2-1 victory in the regular-season finale Saturday night, in front of a sellout crowd of 10,480 at Memorial Coliseum.
"To get three out of four points from Colorado, I think everybody thought it was unlikely," Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. "Our team really showed their true colors, championship form, whatever you want to call it. We've got a lot of guys who won here, and they wanted to show Colorado that we can play with them and beat them. I don't think Colorado wants to play us in the playoffs. We shut them down tonight."
Leading the way for Fort Wayne was left wing Tab Lardner, who scored both goals in arguably the biggest game of the season.
And this game had been huge for Colorado, too, which could have wrapped up the conference's top seed for the playoffs but then had to await results from around the league.
"To jump two spots in one game," Sims said, "it's unbelievable."
Lardner got things going at the end of a 2-on-1 rush 6:56 into the game. He faked a cross-ice pass to forward Derek Patrosso and then sent a shot from the right circle just underneath the cross bar.
He added a short-handed breakaway goal at 15:40. Just after hopping out of the penalty box, Lardner accepted a pass from center Danny Lapointe and beat goaltender Kyle Jones with a high shot for a 2-0 lead.
In 52 games after the Komets acquired him from Missouri for future considerations, Lardner tallied 28 goals and 42 points. Overall this season, he had 31 goals and 52 points in 67 games.
After the game, Lardner received the Stonewall Defensive Forward award, thanks to a vote among reporters and team management. Lardner was plus-9 with a team-leading three short-handed goals.
The team MVP award, which is voted on by the players, was given to center Colin Chaulk for a fifth time. After beginning the season in Italy, he didn't sign with Fort Wayne (31-27-8) until Jan. 3. After his arrival, he scored 10 goals and 40 points 39 games, and the Komets went 22-12-5.
Colorado, which defeated the Komets 7-6 in overtime on Friday, after Fort Wayne recovered from a three-goal deficit, got its lone goal Saturday from forward Steve Haddon on a shot from the right circle.
Fort Wayne goalie Nick Boucher stopped 26 of 27 shots. Jones stopped 31 of 33.
"This weekend, you saw our character," Fort Wayne defenseman Bobby Phillips said. "We were able to come from behind, beat the top team. Everyone is excited to start fresh now in the playoffs with fresh stats, a fresh record. It will help morale."
The Komets, who won the last three championships in the IHL, came into the weekend two points ahead of Dayton for seventh place in the conference. But the Gems put up back-to-back victories on Quad City, enabling the Komets to leapfrog the Mallards.
Colorado (40-22-4), whose season is completed, remained in first place with 84 points. Rapid City was in second with 82 points but was playing late at Arizona. Bloomington, which had 80 points, had a late game against last-place Evansville and another today against the IceMen. And Missouri, with its 80 points, plays today against fifth-place Wichita.
The Komets' first-round opponent won't be known until tonight, and the dates for the best-of-five series won't be released until Monday.
Notes: Winning the other team awards were – Defenseman of the Year, Frankie DeAngelis; Rookie of the Year, Dustin Molle; Most Improved Player, Artem Podshendyalov; Unsung Hero, Craig Cescon; Mr. Hustle, Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock; "True Komet" Award, Schrock; Bud Gallmeier Community Service, Molle … Sims said Boucher will start Game 1 of the playoffs, regardless of the opponent, date or site. … The Komets must leave two players off their playoff roster, which is due Monday afternoon.
- Samuel Hoffman has great photos from the game and the awards: Click here.