MOLINE, Illinois – The Komets were firing everything at the net. The Quad City Mallards were being more methodical, eschewing shots for passes and looking for the perfect play to win it in overtime.
When the Mallards took a page from the Komets’ book, they got the 3-2 victory in Game 4 Friday night.
Brady Brassart fired the puck from the left circle and off of goaltender Pat Nagle, and Sam Warning was there to bury the rebound with only 15 seconds left in the first overtime period, setting off a joyful celebration for the 2,567 fans in attendance at the iWireless Center – except for the roughly 50 fans who had made the trek from Fort Wayne.
The Komets still have a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 first-round series that continues here tonight.
“Beating a team twice in a row is tough. Beating a team four times in a row is even harder,” Komets forward Garrett Thompson said. “They came out tonight and got an early (goal). I don’t think it deflated us or anything. But we knew it was going to come down to the nitty gritty and we knew it was going to be a greasy goal that ended it and it came on their end. We’ve got to bounce back, forget about this and get the win tomorrow.”
The Mallards, who had combined for only 31 shots in Games 1 and 2 at Memorial Coliseum, seem to have found their offensive stride. They totaled 36 shots here Wednesday, only to lose 4-3 on Kyle Thomas’ power-play goal 22 seconds into overtime, and they out-shot the Komets 39-38 in Game 4.
But you wouldn’t have guessed that for most of overtime, as the Komets had seven of the first eight shots and nine of 16 overall. That included Mallards captain Chris Francis spurning a shot for a pass and a turnover 15 feet from the net, and a Warning breakaway that ended without a shot on goal.
“I’m sure both coaching staffs are looking at the opportunities that were missed,” said Komets coach Gary Graham, who noted the Komets have lost back-to-back games only once since January and those were in overtime shootouts, which aren’t used in the playoffs.
“The games are getting tighter and we need stronger play from the collective group. This is exactly what you want to see, … the pressure applied to the group and have them look at it in a positive light and embrace it. They lost a game and now they’ve got to come back and try to close things out tomorrow and that will be a great challenge for the group. This is what makes great teams in the playoffs – trying to find way to come back after a game like this. We’re a team that prides itself on not losing back-to-back games and we’ve got a chance to (avoid that) in a close-out fashion.”
Regular-season champion Toledo took a 3-2 lead in the other Central Division series, getting a 3-2 victory on A.J. Jenks’ goal Friday with 23 seconds left in Ohio.
The Komets had hoped to get time to rest before the next series but the Mallards clearly had different ideas, evidenced by Josh MacDonald’s goal from the left circle 31 seconds into the game. Mike Wilson finished off a give-and-go with Brassart for a 2-0 lead 1:12 into the second period.
The Komets aren’t strangers to playing from behind – they have won 10 times when trailing by two or more goals, including Game 1 – and they tied this one at 2. A no-look Thomas pass set up Jason Binkley for a goal at 4:46 of the second period and captain Jamie Schaafsma netted a power-play goal at 9:29 by redirecting a Shawn Szydlowski shot from the blue line.
(Video highlights are above.)
Szydlowski had perhaps the best opportunity to win it in the third period, stick-handling through a multitude of defenders before his backhand shot from 10 feet was foiled by goaltender C.J. Motte.
“We had a little bit of a slow start but I liked our game as it went on,” Graham said. “We had a lot better second period. But I thought the game went down to who’s going to get a bounce here or there, and that’s typically playoff hockey. Give them credit, they had a couple guys hanging around the net and a guy is wide open on the post (to score the winner).”
Not only would the Komets like to cut down on penalties – they scored on 1 of 3 power plays and Quad City was 0 for 6 – but they would like to bury more of their offensive chances.
“There was one shift where we had three posts in a row, three Grade-A chances that hit the post, and the guys couldn’t have done much more. And then (the Mallards) go down and score," Thompson said. "It’s tough to see that, but that’s the way the puck bounces in the game. I don’t think we gave up at all. We kept working. It just wasn’t in our favor.”
Notes: The Komets’ lineup was unchanged from Game 3; they played without Brett Perlini, Bobby Shea, Kyle Follmer and Taylor Crunk. Shea was the only one unavailable, due to a groin injury. … The referees were Andrew Bruggeman and Korey Chipperfield. … The Rapid City Rush fired coach Mark DeSantis, who became the second coach in franchise history Feb. 17, 2016, and had a 38-47-110 record. Joe Ferras, who preceded him as coach, remains as general manager.