No one will ever accuse the Komets of lack of heart, not even the Komets of 2010-11, a team that was in last place until February.
On the brink of elimination – a familiar phrase in these parts – the Komets scored three goals in the final 9:08 of the third period to force overtime against the CHL-champion Rapid City Rush.
And then the Komets, who played the entire game a man short because of the suspension to forward Sean O’Connor, got the winning goal from forward Mathieu Curadeau during a power play 10:53 into overtime for the 5-4 victory.
After taking a pass from forward Artem Podshendyalov, Curadeau snapped a shot from 35 feet out high on goaltender Tim Boron, who was playing in place of the injured Danny Battochio.
Game 4 of the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals – the Rush lead it 2-1 – will be Friday at Memorial Coliseum, with tickets going on sale today.
The Komets have proved themselves time and time again as masters of the comeback. They successfully recovered from 3-1 deficits in best-of-seven series in the 2005 UHL semifinals against Rockford, the 2008 IHL finals against Port Huron and the 2010 semifinals against Port Huron, and they won three straight IHL championships before joining the CHL last summer.
This game began with plenty of drama, and one of the gutsiest decisions anyone in these parts could remember, as Fort Wayne coach Al Sims opted to bench goaltender Nick Boucher in favor of Kevin Reiter, who stopped 27 of 31 shots.
O’Connor had been suspended three games for his blindside hit of Ryan Menei in a wildly physical 4-3 loss in South Dakota in Game 2. The Rush’s Les Reaney, who skated 25 feet to crush O’Connor from behind later in that game, got nothing but a major penalty and a fine.
Veteran Fort Wayne forward Derek Patrosso was scratched from the lineup in favor of Tom Mele, who had never played a professional game. Then there was the decision about Boucher, who backstopped Fort Wayne to their three IHL titles with a 6-0 record in games they could have been eliminated. He has a 15-game winning streak at the Coliseum in the playoffs.
But 46 saves on 54 shots in the first two games of the series wasn’t enough to keep Boucher in the lineup. Reiter hadn’t played since the second-to-last regular-season game, March 25.
The Rush began the scoring on defenseman Dave Grimson’s shot from the blue line at 11:02 of the first period.
Center Colin Chaulk was sitting for a holding penalty when Reiter failed to control the rebound on another Grimson shot from the point before right wing Konrad Reeder poked it into the net at 17:55.
As two Komets were without their (broken) sticks, Reaney sent an easy pass through the crease to set up left wing Colt King’s goal at 5:33 of the third period.
Things started to turn in Fort Wayne’s favor, and gave the 6,817 fans some energy, during a power play at 3:43 of the third period as forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock redirected a Frankie DeAngelis shot. The Rush answered on a goal from right wing Andrew Smale at 7:08 for a 4-1 lead.
But defenseman Mike Ratchuk scored for the Komets on a short-handed goal at 10:52, after slithering through the slot and finding an open net.
Podshendyalov got a penalty shot at 14:36, when he was pulled down by Gio Flamminio, but he missed his shot wide left. Because Flamminio took two penalties, the other being a cross-check, the Komets still got a power play and got a goal from Schrock at 15:22.
On another power play, at 16:30, Chaulk showed incredible patience before setting up left wing P.C. Drouin with a pass from behind the net for a top-shelf goal past Boron, who stopped 41 of 46 shots.
Fort Wayne was 4 for 8 on power plays. Rapid City was 2 for 10.