RAPID CITY, S.D. – The Rapid City Rush makes a point of hitting every player in sight. The Rush also is a team that almost never turns the puck over.
But the Komets clearly have more speed, and they believe that’s the single biggest advantage in the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals, which are tied at 1 heading into Wednesday’s game at Memorial Coliseum.
I think our speed is huge, Fort Wayne forward Chris Auger said. You can see, even on our back pressure, we’re eliminating so many of their scoring chances and we still gave up more than we’d like.
After losing 6-3 Friday night, a controversial Colin Chaulk game-winning goal – it may have gone in off his hand – led to a 3-1 victory on Saturday night.
Fort Wayne had been 0-4 in playoff games at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
It was obviously a huge hurdle we had to overcome, coach Al Sims said.
The Komets are the top-seeded team in the conference, but because Disney on Ice was at the Coliseum, the series with the fourth-seeded Rush has a 2-3-1-1 format.
Anybody looking at this before the series, like the Rapid City beat (reporters), they’re all saying, Hey, we’ve got to get these (first) two games.’ Everyone in Fort Wayne was saying, We have to get the split.’ Everyone wants to win every game, said Chaulk, whose team has defeated the Rush in five of seven meetings this season.
We would have liked to get both games here and then have real pressure on them. But it’s a long series. These guys, in the last two years, Rapid City has won (five) playoff rounds. No one is going to go down very easily.
Auger leads the Komets in scoring with a goal and three points. Rapid City’s Jesse Schultz has three goals and five points, though he was stopped by goaltender Nick Boucher on a second-period penalty shot Saturday, which may have shifted the momentum in favor of Fort Wayne.
To set up that penalty shot, Schultz was pulled down on a breakaway by Bryant Molle. It was one of the few moments that the Rush got the better of the Komets’ speed.
But the 2010-champion Rush has had several huge checks, including the controversial hit from behind by Jeff Kryzakos on Brett Smith in Game 1 that didn’t even draw a minor penalty.
They do go out of their way to try and finish checks, Auger said. But sometimes it’s an advantage for us because they are running out of position. They’re a puck-possession team. They hold onto it almost to a fault until they make a mistake. They’re looking for the pretty play, to spring guys up the middle, and they’re really reluctant. Every time they have to dump it in, they don’t chase it. We just have to be very, very patient with our trap and let it work like it did (in Game 2).
After playing the first two games with only 17 players, one short of a full lineup, the Komets will get defenseman Brent Henley back for Game 3. He had to serve a three-game suspension for punching Damien Surma and then kneeing Brett Lutes in a game at Dayton on March 24.
Komets defenseman T.J. Miller, who has missed three games with a concussion, might also be available Wednesday.
Although the Komets’ series will go at least through Sunday, the other series in the Turner Conference saw third-seeded Missouri take a 3-0 lead against second-seeded Evansville heading into Monday’s game at Independence, Mo.