The Komets spoke confidently about their chances in Game 6 of the Turner Conference semifinals as they boarded the bus for another 1,100-mile trip to Rapid City, S.D.
“There won’t be a guy in this room who won’t be ready to go and know what their job is,” forward Chris Auger said. “We’re going to go up to Rapid City, be hostile, and we’re going to take it from them. We’ve played well up there before, and we’re looking forward to another challenge.”
The Komets were anything but up to the challenge of closing out Rapid City on Sunday night. Fort Wayne had a one-goal lead heading into the third period, thanks to forward Mike Vaskivuo, but lost 4-1 to the Rush in front of 5,911 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
Fort Wayne leads the best-of-seven series 3-2 with the next game Tuesday.
“We’re the best road team in the league, and I expect to win on the road,” said Fort Wayne coach Al Sims, whose team was 21-11-1 on the road in the regular season and split the series’ first two games at Rapid City.
The Rush was 21-9-3 at home in the regular season.
On Sunday, the Komets took a 1-0 lead when forwards Colin Chaulk and Auger stole the puck at center ice, setting up Vaskivuo for his goal from the right circle. He banked the puck off the inside of goaltender Tim Boron’s leg 14:57 into the third period.
“I just think we sat back too much all night, after we got the first goal,” Chaulk said.
The Rush tied it after defenseman Bryant Molle failed to clear the puck during a power play. That allowed right wing Konrad Reeder to redirect a Jeff Schultz shot past goalie Nick Boucher 3:23 into the third period.
Reeder set up the game-winning goal by winning a faceoff over to left wing Scott Wray, who quickly fired it in at 7:44. Right wing Jake Morissette’s cross-ice pass set up Jeff Kyrzakos for a one-timer at 9:30 and Schultz added an empty-netter.
Fort Wayne, the conference’s top-seeded team, came into the night 4-0 against fourth-seeded Rapid City in playoff games at the Coliseum the past two years.
The Komets played with only 17 men, one short of a full lineup, because defenseman Brent Henley was suspended one game by the CHL for kneeing Collin Circelli in the 5-3 Game 4 victory.
“I thought we kind of let up a little bit,” Vaskivuo said. “We got away from what we were trying to do, just playing simple, getting the pucks deep and banging. We got away from that and they countered with the same thing we had been successful with. And we had a couple (defensive) letdowns there in the third period and they capitalized.”
Boucher stopped 30 of 33 shots. Boron stopped 26 of 27.
“It’s only one game,” Sims said.
Komets center Brett Smith, who has two goals, three points and team-leading plus-4 rating, came out late. He did not make the trip to Rapid City for Game 6 because of a neck injury.
In a series that has had two suspensions – Rapid City’s Les Reaney missed Game 4 for a hit on David Starenky – and several other big hits, the physical play continued Sunday. Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock fought Wray, and Starenky fought Andrew Smale.
Reaney’s hits on Leo Thomas and Jamie Milam may be reviewed by the CHL for possible discipline.