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K's must start better to stay alive

The Komets are coming off one of the most remarkable comebacks in the 59-year history of their franchise.

Down three goals and less than 10 minutes away from being eliminated from the playoffs, the Komets won 5-4 in overtime Wednesday, thanks to center Mathieu Curadeau's shot from 35 feet out 10:53 into overtime.

They trail the CHL-champion Rapid City Rush 2-1 in the best-of-five Turner Conference semifinals, which continue Friday at Memorial Coliseum.

"Win one game, live another day. It's that simple," Komets captain Colin Chaulk said.

But what's the key to making a victory happen? For starters, the Komets don't want to rely on their on-the-brink magic again.

They have yet to score the first goal in any game of the series, and they've been outscored 6-1 in the opening periods.

"I don't know what it is," Chaulk said. "I don't know if we're weak mentally, don't stay the course or what. But there's something going on.

"Hopefully, (Wednesday) was a learning experience that if you give any team pressure, and take time and space away, you're going to at least give yourself a chance. That's obviously what the difference was. If you do that against the best players in the world -- take time and space away -- then they're going to make bad decisions, as we would do the same."

The Komets, who won the last three IHL championships, will have to play one man short of a full lineup again, as forward Sean O'Connor serves the second game of his three-game suspension for a blindside hit on star Ryan Menei in Game 2.

Being short-handed, and tired because of it, didn't stop the Komets from improving their record to 7-0 in games they could have been eliminated dating back to 2008.

"We just have a winner mentality," Curadeau said. "We have guys with four championships or three championships, and there's just a winning mentality here. We really believe in ourselves and this series is not done....

"We just have to think about the next game, the next period, the next shift. We're not looking more forward than that."

Starting strong hasn't been the Komets' strong suit all season. The team lost 16 of its first 21 games and was in last place until February, before finishing 31-27-8 and with the Turner Conference's sixth seed. It was outscored 56-54 in the opening periods.

And top-seeded Rapid City isn't a team you want to get behind. The Rush was 33-0-0 when leading after two periods before Wednesday's collapse.

"I just hope we can use this momentum and this energy, and come out and have a good first period (Friday)," said Komets left wing P.C. Drouin, whose goal with 3:30 remaining in Game 3 forced overtime.

"We need a much better period than we had (Wednesday). Hopefully we're up and they're down a little bit. If we can come up with a big win on Friday, who knows what's going to happen in Game 5 over there (in South Dakota).

"But we can't get ahead of ourselves. We've just got to think about this game and come out better than we did (Wednesday). If we do that, I think our chances are good."

Goaltender Kevin Reiter, who got the surprise Game 3 start over Nick Boucher and stopped 27 of 31 shots, agreed.

"We're still in the same situation," he said. "We were happy for a few minutes after winning, took it all in, but we need to be better. The first period (Wednesday) was one of the worst hockey periods I've seen us play all season. And compare that to November and October, all the bad periods we've had."

The Komets may know how to pull off the epic comeback -- they successfully recovered from 3-1 deficits in best-of-seven series three times between 2005 and 2010 -- but the Rush knows how to put teams away.

"So far, they've been doing their job," Curadeau said. "They've been winning at home. Now it's our turn to do the same, and we've got another win to get."

  • Hey, check this out. I'm interested whether you agree with the ratings of Memorial Coliseum.

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at jcohn@jg.net.

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