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Ben Smith

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Komets Chris Auger, middle, Colin Chaulk, right, and Missouri Mavericks Brandon Coccimiglio fight for the puck during the third period Friday night.

‘Unfortunate’ one way to sum up loss

Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
Komets Frankie DeAngelis and Mavericks Dale Mahovsky battle for the puck during the third period of Friday night’s game.

– He’s standing in the middle of the hallway as you breeze past, deadline baying at your heels. A big man in a home Komet jersey, “Lardner” stitched across the back. Staring at his phone like an answer might be there, or at least an explanation.

As you pass, he looks up.

Your eyes meet for a second or two.

And slowly, ponderously, he shakes his head.

And there is your story for this night, kiddies, wrapped up in one voiceless gesture, thick with disgust. There is Game 1 of the Turner Conference finals, a 3-2 win for visiting Missouri that came out of the ether, a victory that preserved a trend the Komets spent most of the evening hammering to shards.

The trend: Missouri hasn’t yet lost a playoff game this year in which it scored first.

Which it did, this night, barely a minute in, on a shot that Nick Boucher kicked out as a fat rebound, and there was Andrew Courtney to plant the garbage.

And there it was, 1-0, Missouri. And suddenly the Komets’ home-ice advantage is gone barely before it happened.

In the end, that’s how it wound up. But a lot of stuff went on before it did.

There was Tom Mele getting the equalizer and then Mike Vaskivuo getting the go-ahead goal a minute and a half into the second period, and then there was a third period in which the Komets put the Mavs on their heels and kept them there. They put a NASCAR race worth of rubber on goaltender Charlie Effinger, outshooting the Mavs 13-0 as Game 1 chugged into the final 30 seconds.

“We haven’t outshot anybody 13-0 with 20 seconds to go, so I don’t know how you can play any better than we did in the third,” coach Al Sims would say later.

“Played a good road period,” defenseman Brent Henley assessed.

And then he looked down at the floor, because of course that wasn’t the story and he knew it.

The rest began 19 seconds from a 2-1 win, when Henley was pushed/fell into the net, knocking it off its moorings. Missouri was finished, until that moment. It was on the slab and the tag was being slipped over its toe.

But then came the whistle, the call, the end of it all.

Referee Zac Blazic decided Henley had knocked the net off its moorings on purpose. Missouri would get a penalty shot. And of course Ed McGrane scored on it, and the clock ran out, and five minutes and change into overtime, John-Scott Dickson scored to steal the game and home ice right off the Komets plate.

“Did you – ” someone started to ask Sims, a handful of minutes later.

“No,” Sims interrupted. “I didn’t see the net, I didn’t see the last goal. Can’t comment on them until I see them.”

And Henley?

In the locker room he shook his head, stripped off his socks, rolled them into balls, said, look, he doesn’t even think he knows the rule. But he does know he didn’t knock the net askew on purpose.

“I know better than that,” he said.

And then: “I’m just disappointed because obviously we had that with 20 seconds left. These guys battled … . It’s unfortunate.”

That’s one word for it.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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