RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Komets hadn’t been able to win a playoff game at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in four previous tries.
Well, we have now, Komets captain Colin Chaulk deadpanned, after a 3-1 victory Saturday night, which evened the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals at a game apiece.
How it happened, in front of 4,024 fans, is the subject of much debate.
Forward Chris Auger came out from behind the Rush net and took a shot on goaltender Tim Boron. The puck caromed into the air, chaos ensued and it wound up just over the goal line for a one-goal lead with 2:06 remaining.
Credit for the goal went to Chaulk, who claimed after the game he never touched it. Rapid City coach Joe Ferras argued, unsuccessfully, that Chaulk illegally batted it in with his glove. Auger didn’t have a clue.
It was just battling in front of the net, Chaulk said. It went straight up into the air, I had position on their (defenseman) and it just went in. I didn’t touch it.
Auger’s description was: I lost my glove on the way to the net, but I was able to get some room and I started jamming at it. Before I knew it, I was at the side of the net and the puck was in. I didn’t know what they were complaining about. The last I saw, it went off the shin pads of one of their players and went into the net.
Ferras was less diplomatic.
I’ve got to see the video but Chaulk was telling us he batted it in. That’s what he was saying on the ice, Ferras said. If that’s the case, then what a way to ruin a tremendous hockey game.
No one was better than Komets goaltender Nick Boucher, who stopped 30 of 31 shots – including a Jesse Schultz penalty shot – a night after allowing five goals on 32 shots in a 6-3 Rapid City victory.
Having choked the game away last night – we obviously had a lot of penalties in that game – I thought we were a lot better in that department, Boucher said. Obviously, getting the split on the road, it’s huge to back to Fort Wayne with three straight games there and it tied 1-1.
Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock began the scoring 3:08 into the game Saturday, redirecting Stephon Thorne’s shot from the point and putting it underneath Boron, who stopped 24 of 26 shots.
But the Rush answered 49 seconds into the second period, when Schultz slipped behind the Fort Wayne defense and beat Boucher on a breakaway.
Boucher’s revenge came late in the period, after Shultz was pulled down by defenseman Bryant Molle and got an ill-fated penalty shot.
The penalty-shot save was a game-changer, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. It was certainly a momentum shift, whatever you want to say about it. It gave us a chance to win the game.
The Komets had plenty of chances in that second period to take the lead, too. Forward Tom Mele missed on a breakaway for the second straight night and Auger’s blast from 25 feet out beat Boron but ricocheted off the post.
We finally broke through. You knew it was going to be a dirty, greasy play that was going to win it, Sims said.
Center Brett Smith cemented the victory Saturday with an empty net goal, impressive because it looked as if he wouldn’t be able to play because of a head-and-neck injury suffered on a hit from behind from Jeff Kryzakos in Game 1 that didn’t garner a penalty. The Komets asked the CHL to review the Kryzakos hit and a league spokesman said he knew of no discipline, not even a fine.
The Komets were already without defenseman T.J. Miller (concussion) and had to play with only 17 players, one short of a full lineup, because Brent Henley had to serve the final segment of his three-game suspension for sucker-punching Dayton’s Damien Surma and kneeing Brett Lutes in a game the previous week.