If the Komets are to escape from the brink of elimination by winning three straight playoff games for the third time since 2005, they will have to do it without forward Sean O’Connor – for the rest of the series against the Rapid City Rush.
A day after announcing O’Connor would be suspended for his open-ice hit on Rush star forward Ryan Menei, the CHL determined Tuesday the length of the O’Connor suspension would be three games.
Meanwhile, the CHL levied only a fine on Rush forward Les Reaney, who skated about 25 feet and boarded O’Connor from behind later in the 4-3 Rush victory Saturday night at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
It was determined after extensive review that Mr. Reaney did not target the head nor was primary contact made to the head, Jim Wiley, the CHL’s director of hockey operations, wrote in an email.
Mr. Reaney was given a major penalty by the on-ice official and no further disciplinary action was deemed necessary that would result in the player missing any game time. Mr. Reaney was fined and put on notice for the dangerous hit.
The Rush, which was led to the CHL championship last season by playoff MVP Reaney, has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals over the Komets, who won the last three IHL championships.
About 7,000 fans are expected for tonight’s Game 3 at Memorial Coliseum.
Menei, who had 39 goals and 87 points in the regular season and had a hat trick in the Rush’s 5-2 series-opening victory, won’t play tonight or Friday, if there is a Game 4. He suffered a concussion on a lateral/blindside hit from O’Connor, who didn’t receive a penalty from referee Marc-Andre Lavoie.
O’Connor had 14 goals and 38 points in the regular season, and he has four assists in the playoffs. If the Komets are eliminated, his suspension carries over to next season.
The Komets will have to play one man short of a full lineup tonight because of the suspension. Rookie forward Tom Mele is expected to make his debut for the Komets, who recovered from 3-1 deficits in best-of-seven series against Rockford in the UHL semifinals of 2005, Port Huron in the IHL finals of 2008 and Port Huron in the semifinals last season.
Over the last three years, the Komets are 6-0 in games in which they could have been eliminated. Goaltender Nick Boucher has also won 15 straight games at the Coliseum in the playoffs.
The Rush may be without its No. 1 goalie, Danny Battochio, who left Game 2 after the first period with an undisclosed injury.
If he cannot go, the Rush will look to Tim Boron, who has stopped 54 of 57 shots in two playoff games this season, including 20 of 22 on Saturday.
Boron was the Cup-winning goalie for Colorado of the CHL in 2007.
(The Rush) know how to win. They know how to win games, Komets forward Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock said. But we’re OK. We’re home, and we’ve just got to get the momentum back at home, turn it into a snowball effect and keep it going the whole series. If we take care of business, we’ll be in good shape. It starts with one game. We’ve done it before, and we’ve got a lot of character in that (locker) room.