BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – He was the last player off the ice, enjoying the adulation as about 400 orange-and-black clad fans, who made the 235-mile trip to U.S. Cellular Arena, chanted "Let's go Komets" and screamed words of praise toward No. 94.
This is Playoff Mathieu Curadeau, and he's a lot better.
After a regular season in which he was often ineffective, Curadeau has three goals and three assists, and the Komets have a 2-0 lead in the CHL's best-of-five first-round series against the Bloomington PrairieThunder.
The forward broke open a tied game 54 seconds into the third period. With Bloomington's Jason Deleurme draped all over him, Curadeau fell to the ice and snapped a shot above rookie goaltender Brad Phillips.
Center Danny Lapointe added an empty-net goal with 1.7 seconds remaining in the Komets' 3-1 victory, watched by 1,446 fans.
"Matty has been looking forward to this ever since it looked like we would make the playoffs," said Fort Wayne coach Al Sims, whose team is seeded sixth in the Turner Conference. "He gets a do-over, gets a fresh start. … He'd had opportunities, but just couldn't finish. He's come through huge in these two games. You can't say enough about that effort on his goal tonight."
Curadeau had career lows in goals (14), points (33) and plus/minus rating (minus-24) in the regular season.
"It seems like everything is working for me right now," he said. "I'd been carrying that minus rating on my back. That had never happened to me before. My worst season had been plus-20, so I felt unlucky. But right now, it's going to the other way (with my plus-1 in the playoffs), and what I'm doing is working. I'm glad I can help my team win some games."
The series has been dominated by Komets' special teams. They have scored on 5 of 11 power plays, and they have a short-handed goal and two empty-netters. Third-seeded Bloomington is 1 for 12 on power plays, and it has scored on five of its last 51 opportunities.
Komets center Leo Thomas opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 8:35 of the first period, after Curadeau fed him a pass from behind the net.
The second period was the PrairieThunder's best of the series, as it hit seemingly everything in sight. Bloomington center Jon Booras thought he had the equalizer at 1:20, but his shot ricocheted over goaltender Nick Boucher and barely missed the net, and a Dustin DeGagne shot was deflected from the goal by Komets center Danny Lapointe at 11:04.
Bloomington finally found the net at 16:25, when forward Travis Granbois snapped a shot from 20 feet out past Boucher's glove.
"After the second period, we came in here like we had lost the game," Sims said. "I told them, 'We just took some untimely penalties and we were in the box, gave them momentum and confidence.'"
Boucher made nine of his 29 saves in the third period.
"We were fortunate enough to get a penalty called on Bloomington toward the end of the second period, then came out on fresh ice in the third and Matty made a great individual play by burying it from the slot," Boucher said. "That was a huge, huge goal for us, especially at a time when Bloomington had the momentum. That's pretty deflating for them to get scored on in the first minute of the period."
Phillips made 23 saves, and Game 3 will be Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum.