RAPID CITY, S.D. – RAPID CITY, S.D. – Colin Chaulk contended he didn't touch the puck. Video replay showed he did. Maybe he was just trying to pump the spirit of the man who sent the pass, Mike Vaskivuo, who was cut by the Rapid City Rush and scooped up by the Komets on March 15.
That was a fateful decision since Vaskivuo has five goals and 17 points in 12 games with Fort Wayne, not including the overtime game-winner Tuesday night that cemented a 4-3 victory over the Rush and completed Fort Wayne's 4-2 win in the best-of-seven Turner Conference semifinals.
"They gave me room on the blue line and I took it. I just tried to put the puck on net," said Vaskivuo, whose centering pass was swatted at by Chaulk and Rush defenseman Michael Couch before it slid underneath goaltender Tim Boron 51 seconds into extra time.
The Komets, the top-seeded team in the conference, will take on the Missouri Mavericks in the best-of-seven conference finals, starting Friday and Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
The Mavericks have been off since completing a sweep of Evansville on March 2.
The Berry Conference finals will pit Wichita against Texas.
"Their defenseman poked it in," Chaulk said of the winning goal, for which he was credited. "I didn't get a piece of it, though I would have liked to have. But at this time of year, it's not about goals or personal achievements. It's about winning four games in each round and I think guys understand the feeling now of how hard that is, how difficult that is, to do."
If the Komets leave the CHL after this season, as most people expect they will, they'll probably never face the Rush again. After two years of brutally physical playoff games – including the Rush's victory in the semifinals last year that went the maximum five games – that'll probably be just fine with Fort Wayne.
"I can't say enough about my hockey team and the character they showed tonight. Desire. Drive. Will to win," said Fort Wayne coach Al Sims, whose team coughed up an early two-goal lead and only got to overtime after Nick Boucher made a dazzling acrobatic save on forward Jesse Schultz with 20 seconds remaining in regulation time.
"Rapid City had all the momentum (heading into overtime) and our team took it away from them right away. And what can you say about Vaskivuo? He's really come back to haunt Rapid City," said Sims as 3,888 disappointed fans exited Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
If there's been a longer goal in the Komets' 60-year history than the one that defenseman Jamie Lovell had to open the scoring – one with a goalie in net, anyway – no one seemed to remember it.
Lovell was bracing to absorb a hit from the Andrew Smale in the left circle of his own zone, and he dumped the puck toward Boron. The puck took a funny hop close to the net and went in – from 180 feet out – at 3:42 of the first period.
"I work on that a lot, I really do," said Lovell, admitting it's usually for shooting at an empty net.
Defenseman Brent Henley gave the Komets a two-goal lead at 11:56, attacking from the point, accepting Vaskivuo's pass from behind the net and blasting it past Boron.
Lovell had only five goals during the regular season. Henley had only three.
But the Rush answered at 16:56 when forward Les Reaney redirected defenseman Dave Grimson's shot from the point past goalie Nick Boucher.
The Komets played without center Brett Smith, who was still feeling the effects of a hit from behind by in Game 1 by Jeff Kyrzakos that injured his neck. Despite reports to the contrary, Komets president Michael Franke said Smith didn't undergo any procedure and remained day-to-day.
Smith was replaced by forward Derek Roehl, who made his professional debut out of Western Michigan.
When Roehl and forward Chris Auger took penalties midway through the second period, it gave the Rush a pivotal 5-on-3 power play for 1:04. The Komets held the Rush to only two shots until Roehl came out of the box, then forward Scott Wray scored after a no-look pass from behind the net by forward Konrad Reeder for a power-play goal and a 2-all tie.
The Komets regained the lead with a power-play goal 16:00 into the third period, when center Jean-Michel Rizk deposited the rebound of a Jamie Milam shot into the net.
The Rush got another 5-on-3 power play, though, and the Komets killed off the first penalty only to have Reeder tie it by redirecting a Riley Weselowski shot from the point at 18:20.
Boron stopped 36 shots. Boucher stopped 29
Turner Conference Finals
Missouri Mavericks vs. Fort Wayne Komets
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 13 – Missouri at Fort Wayne, 8:00 PM
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 14 – Missouri at Fort Wayne, 8:00 PM
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 18 – Fort Wayne at Missouri, 7:05 PM
Game 4 – Thu., Apr. 19 – Fort Wayne at Missouri, 7:05 PM
*Game 5 – Sat., Apr. 21 – Fort Wayne at Missouri, 7:05 PM
*Game 6 – Tue., Apr. 24 – Missouri at Fort Wayne, 7:30 PM
*Game 7 – Thu., Apr. 26 – Missouri at Fort Wayne, 7:30 PM
* If necessary
**All times local