BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – Saturday night's opening game of the Turner Conference quarterfinals was, for the Komets, all about changing perceptions.
Like the one that their power play is unreliable. Or, the one that Mathieu Curadeau can't finish. Or, the one that P.C. Drouin doesn't belong on the ice.
And, of course, the one that the PrairieThunder should win this best-of-five series.
The Komets netted four goals on special teams – three on the power play, one short-handed – and won 5-2 in front of 2,140 fans at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
About 500 of those fans made the 235-mile trip to see their Komets, who won the last three championships in the IHL before joining the CHL last summer. They saw the Komets, seeded sixth in the conference, dominate almost the entire game, thanks in part to some costly penalties from third-seeded Bloomington, which was playing its first playoff game after five seasons.
"They hadn't been a good penalty killing team all year," coach Al Sims said of the PrairieThunder's No. 8 ranking on the penalty kill. "We knew if we could design something to isolate one of their guys up top, we could have some success. It worked tonight."
The Komets scored on 3 of 8 power-play opportunities.
Forward Tab Lardner opened the scoring, on a power play 4:59 into the game, beating goaltender Marco Emond with a high shot, after Frankie DeAngelis' blast from the point sailed wide and ricocheted off the boards behind the Bloomington net.
The Komets went up 2-0 on a power play at 7:09 of the second period, when defenseman Guy Dupuis' high shot from the blue line was directed underneath Emond by center Leo Thomas.
Curadeau, a forward who had problems capitalizing on great scoring chances throughout the regular season, was stoned twice early in the game on shots from just outside the goal crease. But when his team was short-handed, and forward Sean O'Connor's forecheck broke the puck loose, Curadeau snapped a 20 foot shot in at 12:02 of the second period.
"That felt good, especially the way the puck went in. I was going to the net and got a little bit lucky with the puck (popping out) there," said Curadeau, who also had a late empty-net goal. "Starting the playoffs at zero, that was huge for me. To be even on the plus/minus line, it was great after (I was minus-24 in the regular season), which was ridiculous. I felt unlucky all year and tonight was totally different."
The Komets' power play, which was 18.4 percent effective and ranked sixth among 18 teams during the regular season, continued to reap the benefits of its changes in systems and personnel. Drouin, who might have been scratched from the lineup had defenseman Bobby Phillips not had a shoulder injury, blasted a high shot from 50 feet out and it beat Emond for a 4-0 lead at 16:49 of the second period.
"Come the playoff time, special teams are going to win you a lot of games, whether it's penalty killing or getting the opportune goal on the power play," said Drouin, the Komets' leading scorer in the playoffs last year. "You've got to capitalize. We switched a few things and worked something that's probably going to work out a lot better for us."
At some points, the Komets used all forwards – Drouin, Curadeau, Thomas, O'Connor and Artem Podshendyalov – on the power play.
Curadeau and Drouin, who have five Turner Cup wins between them, and were both expected to eclipse the 30-goal plateau this season, combined for only 28 in the regular season.
"Playoffs is all about team atmosphere and if I get three shifts or four shifts, I want to make them the best shifts of the game," Drouin said. "I just want to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
Emond was yanked after stopping 17 of 21 shots in the first two periods. His replacement, Brad Phillips, stopped all seven he faced in the third, not including Curadeau's empty netter at 18:47.
The PrairieThunder scored at 7:07 of the third period, when forward Brodie Sheahan redirected, with his skate, an Aaron Dawson shot. Forty seconds later, Bloomington forward Jason Deleurme netted a shot from the left circle.
The Komets' Nick Boucher turned away 35 of 37 shots.