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First round
Komets vs. Bloomington
Game 1, at Bloomington, 8 p.m. Saturday
Game 2, at Bloomington, 4 p.m. Sunday
Game 3, at Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
Game 4, at Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. April 8*
Game 5, at Bloomington, 4 p.m. April 10*
* – If necessary
Coming Saturday
•As the Komets enter their first CHL playoffs, Komets reporter Justin A. Cohn offers an in-depth look at the team’s experience and its first-round opponent, Bloomington, in a two-page special playoff preview section.
CathieRowand | The Journal Gazette
Bobby Phillips emerged as the Komets’ top shot-blocker.

Phillips helps steady defense

Komet finds stride after rough start

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
The Komets’ Bobby Phillips tries to skate past Colorado’s Alex Penner during Saturday’s season finale.

Things started to click for defenseman Bobby Phillips around Jan. 15.

His plus/minus rating had sagged to an abominable minus-15. He had only two goals and one assist in 25 games. And he wasn’t making much of an impact on the ice.

Then came the metamorphosis into a reliable blue-liner.

He began limiting his defensive mistakes, going minus-1 in his final 35 games. He contributed more in the offensive end with two goals and four assists. And, most importantly, he became the team’s go-to shot-blocker.

“Early in the season, we had him playing with a lot of defensive partners and that hurt him more than it helped him because he was having to adjust to a new style all the time,” general manager David Franke said. “He’s got a high plus/minus this season, but it hasn’t ballooned recently. He’s kept it under control, and he’s playing a lot better than he did early in the (season) and that’s why he’s still around.”

Phillips, who is in his second season out of Mercyhurst College, conceded that changing partners often muddled his mind and play.

“Ask any guy and they’ll tell you, every night, it’s hard having a new partner. It’s hard to adjust,” Phillips said. “You don’t know where they’re going to go. But once you get used to a guy, it’s a lot easier to play.”

Things got easier after the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets assigned offensive defenseman Michael Ratchuk to Fort Wayne; he has one goal and 13 points in 22 games. Ratchuk has partnered primarily with his roommate, Phillips.

“I definitely got more comfortable and was able to play my game instead of worrying about my (defense) partner so much,” Phillips said. “I’m so defensive minded that I was always wondering (early in the season) what my partners were going to do and trying to compensate. I was trying to adjust to them all the time.”

Phillips had two goals, 16 points and a plus-20 rating in 66 games last season, when the Komets won their third straight IHL championship. Now they’re in the CHL and, on Saturday, as No. 6 seeds in the Turner Conference will open a first-round best-of-five playoff series against the third-seeded Bloomington PrairieThunder.

In what is expected to be a low-scoring series, Phillips’ newly rediscovered shot-blocking role will be pivotal.

“I don’t know why I got away from (doing) that last year,” he said. “That’s how I had been my whole life. I didn’t block a lot last year and, honestly, I don’t even know why. It’s weird. I was talking to (center Danny) Lapointe because he was asking how I go down like that, and I was trying to show him in practice, but I can’t do it if I start thinking about it. It’s just instinct.”

The Komets (31-27-8) were 3-7-0 against the PrairieThunder (37-22-7).

Phillips, whose plus/minus rating was better than only one teammate, center Mathieu Curadeau (minus-24), knows he must bring the sort of game he did for the last 10 weeks.

“I’ve had my ups and downs, just like everybody else this season,” said Phillips, 25, whose father, Bob, played for Fort Wayne in 1981-82. “It’s been the whole team, though, not just individuals. We’ve all had ups and downs (collectively). But we’re still going to the playoffs.”