CINCINNATI – The Cincinnati Cyclones are notoriously good while playing with a lead. They have a 37-9 record in playoff games since 2007 in games they've scored first, including Kelly Cup wins in 2008 and 2010.
The Komets bucked that trend in the opening game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, but they couldn't do it again Saturday in a 5-2 loss that evened the series at 1.
“They had more offensive-zone possession time, and that's the name of the game,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “We didn't have it. Collectively, as a group, I was very disappointed in our compete level overall.”
Forward Josh Shalla led Cincinnati with two goals, and left wing Matt Carter and right wing Shawn Szydlowski scored for Fort Wayne at U.S. Bank Arena. About 400 Fort Wayne fans were among the crowd of 1,731.
Games 3, 4 and 5 will be at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Not making any excuses, but I thought we looked really sluggish (in Game 1). We had a lot of travel recently,” said Cincinnati forward Dan Eves, whose team's 2-1 loss to the Komets on Friday came three days after the Cyclones finished their six-game first-round series in Orlando, Florida.
“I thought we had a lot better effort tonight. There was more intensity and guys were battling a little harder.
So far, the series has played out for the Komets, the eighth seed in the conference, almost exactly as it did in the five-game, first-round victory over defending-champion, top-seeded Reading. That included a come-from-behind victory in Game 1 – Christian Ouellet scored with 7.1 seconds left Friday – and then a letdown in Game 2.
“We got outworked. Against a team like that, they're going to make you pay and they did,” Komets left wing Chris Auger said. “It's always tough in the playoffs. You go through tough stretches and try to find a way to dip right through. We thought tonight we would get opportunities, but what we did was completely unacceptable. We kept losing battles and if you're not scoring goals, you can't be a minus.”
Fort Wayne goalie Ben Meisner stopped 28 of 32 shots. Rob Madore of fifth-seeded Cincinnati stopped 25 of 27.
After a scoreless first period, the Cyclones began to take control 1:44 into the second period when forward Byron Froese sent a crossing pass to forward Josh Birkholz, who one-timed it past Meisner. Shalla made it 2-0 at 5:52 by skating in one-on-one against Auger, then sending a 20-foot wrist shot between Meisner's legs.
Carter answered at 9:00, by breaking in alone on net, faking Madore out of his way and backhanding the puck into the top of an open net.
The Cyclones battled right back. After a faceoff win by Froese, Shalla sent a shot rocketing into the top of the net at 14:54. And forward Zach Budish redirected a shot by defenseman Taylor Aronson during a power play for a 4-1 lead at 18:59, as the Cyclones outshot the Komets 18-6 in the period.
With the teams playing 4-on-4, the Komets pulled within two as defenseman Jordon Southorn set up Szydlowski alone in front for a goal at 17:25 of the third period, but forward Wade Megan cemented the victory with an empty-netter at 19:09.
“We just wanted it,” Shalla said. “We outplayed them. In the last game, I feel like we sat back and tonight we took the game to them.”