FORT WAYNE – The man the Komets fans call aPod – Artem Podshendyalov – has become a favorite at Memorial Coliseum, thanks to his breathtaking speed, nifty moves and raw talent.
On Wednesday night, he showed why.
With Game 3 of the Komets’ quarterfinal series with Bloomington tied early in the third period, he accepted forward Sean O’Connor’s pass from the right boards, took off on a breakaway, faked goaltender Brad Phillips and scored on a backhander.
The Komets won 6-3 before 7,297 fans at the Coliseum, sweeping the best-of-five series and advancing to take on defending-champion Rapid City in a series that’s expected to start late next week.
“After the second period, the coach just told me to skate fast. ‘You young guys, go, use your speed,’ ” Podshendyalov said. “I had played only two shifts in the second period and when I got that puck, I was just looking for the open part of the net and wanted to get the puck in there.
“I’m happy. I helped the team win. It’s good for me and all the young guys.”
The Komets, who won the last three IHL championships, had an unexpectedly poor regular season by losing 16 of their first 21 and finishing 31-27-8 for the sixth seed in the conference. They had gone 3-7-0 against the third-seeded PrairieThunder (37-22-7), which led only 10 minutes, 26 seconds in the series.
Top-seeded Rapid City went 40-22-7 and defeated the Komets twice, 4-0 and 3-1.
Komets center Mathieu Curadeau, who led the Komets with four goals and eight points in the series, opened the scoring with a short-handed breakaway at 3:10 of the first period. Phillips actually stopped the shot before Bloomington’s Jon Booras knocked it into his own net.
Forward Brodie Sheahan tied it from the right circle at 9:10. And after Fort Wayne defenseman Guy Dupuis got spun around, the PrairieThunder’s Karl Fournier scored on an odd-man rush at 2:43 of the second period.
Dupuis atoned, though, by scoring from 50 feet out at 13:09. It was the Komets’ first 5-on-5 goal in the series. The Komets outscored the PrairieThunder 14-6 with five power-play goals, two short-handed goals and three empty netters.
After Podshendyalov scored for a 3-2 lead, his cross-ice pass set up defenseman Frankie DeAngelis for a goal from the right circle at 6:34.
“Artie is a kid you hope gets that type of chance, in that type of game, that type of situation. He’s probably the most calm player under those circumstances,” Sims said of the goal by the 21-year-old rookie, who had eight goals in 31 regular-season games.
After Bloomington forward Jason Williams scored, the Komets cemented the victory with Curadeau skating toward the blue line of the offensive zone and, with his back toward the net, taking a blind shot that was redirected in by right wing Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock at 9:59.
“They had our number in the regular season and for the most part, when we played them, they outworked us,” Dupuis said. “That’s the one thing we didn’t want them to do in this series.”
Phillips stopped 29 of 34 shots. Fort Wayne’s Nick Boucher stopped 19 of 22.