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Ben Smith

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Killing off these guys won't be so easy

Of course they were dead. They were deader than Elvis, deader than leisure suits, deader than pet rocks and poodle skirts and Rubik’s Cube and Funky Cold Medina, and whatever it is Charlie Sheen calls a career these days.

And, then, of course, because it’s what they do, the Fort Wayne Komets did this amazing thing: They sat up in the coffin in Game 3 of their CHL playoff series Wednesday against Rapid City in the Coliseum.

Scored once. Scored twice. Scored thrice. Scored – say what? – four times, P.C. Drouin driving the puck past Rapid City goalie Tim Boron on a patient-as-Job pass from behind the net by Colin Chaulk, then going to his knees, throwing back his head and howling up toward all those approving banners overhead.

And then, at 10:53 of overtime, this: Mathieu Curadeau pulling the trigger.

The puck sailed toward the net. Sailed past Boron. Sailed and sailed, as Curadeau threw his fist in the air and everyone piled on him down along the boards in front of the Rapid City bench, and everyone wondered what it was they’d just seen.

Something that refused to stay dead, surely, like Michael Myers, or perhaps Dracula. Something stubborn beyond belief, like the Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” losing an arm, a leg, another arm and another leg, and still ranting at the cowards to come back and fight.

Something of all that was in the air, after Komets 5, Rapid City 4. Something of all that was in the question, asked no doubt in different contexts depending on which locker room you were in: Why don’t these guys just die already?

On the Rapid City side of the ice, that question likely was only rhetorical. On the Komets side, it had an answer: Because we don’t believing in dying.

“We just don’t want to lose,” Drouin said when it was done. “That’s what it comes down to. I didn’t want my season to end tonight, all the other guys didn’t want their season to end, and we just find a way to dig deep and make it happen.”

They may yet not survive this, these Komets, because the Rush still needs just one more win and is no more inclined to go meekly into the night than the Komets are. But if the Komets go out, they’ll go out on their feet.

They’ll go out doing what they did Wednesday, which is kick and scream and keep going to the net, keep scrambling to stay upright even when everything conspires to knock them down. And for a long time it did.

Conventional wisdom said the Komets had to come out firing with season’s end lurking in the shadows, but instead they came out like they had a tee time waiting. They managed just three shots on goal in the first period, a season low. And Rapid City beat Komets goalie Kevin Reiter twice on pucks Reiter likely never saw, then scored again in the second despite being outshot 19-7.

“The first period was atrocious,” Drouin said. “We haven’t played a bad period like that in a long, long time. Which is strange. But we found a way to forget about that period and I think momentum changed in the second period.”

Or maybe in the locker room, with the Komets down three and one period to play.

“A lot of teams would just say, ‘Oh, it’s 3-0, one period to go, it’s over. Let’s just go through the motions’,” Curadeau said. “But not here. There was no panic. Everybody was confident.”

And yet … they were dead. When Andrew Smale beat Reiter one more time at 7:08 of the third to make it 4-1, it was over. The air went right out of Memorial Coliseum, and the post-mortems began.

What was up with Al Sims’ curious decision to play Reiter over Nick Boucher, who’d won 15 straight playoff games at home? What about all the costly penalties that doomed their momentum time and again? What if Artem Podshendyalov’s shot at a yawning net in the second period had skimmed an inch to the left, finding the back of the net instead of chiming the post?

Forget that noise. Save those questions for another night, if and when they’re needed.

Ask, instead, the one question that matters this morning: Why don’t these guys just die already?

Because they don’t believe in dying, of course. Just don’t hold with it.

“We wanted to go down swinging,” Chaulk said, leaning against the wall in the hallway outside the locker room. “We wanted to give ourselves a chance and we really didn’t the first two periods.”

He shook his head.

“It’s crazy how the momentum switched.”

Or maybe not so crazy.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648 or at the “Ben Smith” topic of “The Board” at www.journalgazette.net.

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