RAPID CITY, S.D. – RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Komets had a chance to steal Game 1, after a Leo Thomas goal in the third period Friday night.
But their lead lasted only 1 minute, 30 seconds before things imploded.
The Rapid City Rush unleashed four unanswered goals at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center to take the opening game of the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals 6-3, in front of 3,549 fans.
“We had penalty problems all night and the penalties came back and bit us,” said Komets coach Al Sims, whose team allowed two power-play goals, including the game-winner to Collin Circelli
“They seemed to turn it up a notch at 3-2 and they found a way to get back ahead of us.”
The Komets won the conference in the regular season and are the higher-seeded team but have to play the first two games of the 2-3-1-1 formatted series here because Disney on Ice is at Memorial Coliseum.
The teams met in the best-of-five conference semifinals last year – that series went the distance – and the common thread has been Fort Wayne’s inability to beat the fourth-seeded Rush here.
“Coming back (from a one-goal deficit) in the third period and showing we can score in this building and we can score on Tim Boron, we’ve got to take positives from that,” Sims said. “For most of the game, other than when they had power plays, like in the first two periods, we were pretty dominating in the offensive zone.”
Rapid City, which lost 4 of 5 regular-season games to the Komets, scored on 2 of 8 power plays Friday. Fort Wayne was 1 for 3.
Fort Wayne goaltender Nick Boucher stopped 27 of 32 shots. Boron stopped 22 of 25.
“The Komets kind of got into penalty trouble,” Rapid City coach Joe Ferras said. “But our guys responded. It was a pretty good push-back for us, after we got down 3-2, and then we tied it up. When you do it that quick, the heads don’t have time to go down. Not one guy on our bench got down and we went right back at them.”
The Rush opened the scoring 3:12 into the first period, after Fort Wayne didn’t get the players it wanted onto the ice before a faceoff. Sims said forward Chris Auger had to come off because of a broken skate and the officials made the Komets put a third defenseman on the ice instead of the forward Fort Wayne wanted.
Soon, Rush defenseman Riley Weselowski sent a high wrist shot from the blue line and Boucher made the initial save before Scott Wray tucked it underneath him.
Fort Wayne answered at 10:11, when Mike Vaskivuo sent a pass from the right post and Auger took a one-timer and put his own rebound past Boron.
The physical play was amplified in the second period and the Rush got a two-man advantage with Colin Chaulk and Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock in the penalty box for tripping and interference, respectively.
Fort Wayne’s Jamie Lovell was sent into the boards from behind during the power play and, seconds later, Jesse Schultz scored from 15 feet out for a 2-1 lead.
Chaulk tied it with a power-play goal 36 seconds into the third period – he shot it from 40 feet out, with Brett Smith screening – and Thomas finished off an odd-man rush less than three minutes later for a 3-2 Fort Wayne lead.
But the Rush then went on a tear. Schultz took advantage of a scrum in front to score top-shelf. Circelli banked a weak wrist shot off the inside of Boucher’s leg. Dave Grimson’s shot from the high slot made it a two-goal lead at 8:48. And Jake Morissette added an empty-net goal.
“We can’t give up those opportunities and we’ve got to stay out of the penalty box,” Chaulk said. “They were calling it tight. I don’t think they were calling it that tight all year. … But the Rush are playing the same game. We’ve just got to have fewer penalties and be more patient.”
The Komets were without defenseman Brent Henley, who served the second game of his three-game suspension for sucker-punching Dayton’s Damien Surma and then kneeing Brett Lutes. While Henley is out, the Komets must play one man short of an 18-player lineup.
Note: Prior to the game, Komets general manager David Franke said he has his sights set on a couple of amateurs but was holding off on signing them.
“Well, we haven’t brought any amateurs in yet because we are waiting for their eligibility to run out,” Franke said. “Some of the guys we are eyeing are still in juniors and playing.”
CHL teams are allowed to bring in two amateurs who don’t count against their 19-man playoff roster, a good way to add manpower. The Rush brought in two amateurs – Ross Ring-Jarvi and Austin Day Chief – and Ring-Jarvi was in the lineup.