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The Journal Gazette

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets goaltender Michael Houser makes a save Tuesday night at the Budweiser Events Center in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Loveland, Colorado, against the defending-champion Colorado Eagles.

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets forward Mason Baptista, right, and the Colorado Eagles' Brady Shaw recover after a collision Tuesday night at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado, where they played Game 6 of the Western Conference finals. 

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets forward Mason Baptista, right, fires a shot on Colorado Eagles goaltender Joa Cannata on Tuesday night as defenseman Ben Storm looks on at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018 12:40 am

Resilient as ever, K's force Game 7

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

LOVELAND, Colorado – The Komets have been a resilient team all season. So maybe there never was a doubt they'd make this happen and force a Game 7.

“Sometimes it's just reassuring to see it happen again. I guess it's a little bit of a surprise, but it shouldn't be because we've been doing it all year,” captain Jamie Schaafsma said, after the Komets cemented a 3-2 victory Tuesday night from the defending-champion Colorado Eagles, forcing the decisive Game 7 at 9 p.m. today at the Budweiser Events Center.

“It's definitely nice to see, but we haven't finished the job yet. I like what we did tonight but we've still got to improve if we want to come out victorious.”

In typical Komets fashion, they came back in this game – not once, but twice.

Garrett Thompson netted the winning goal 4:57 into the third period, after Eagles goaltender Joe Cannata gave up a juicy rebound off a Jason Binkley shot from the blue line.

“When (Binkley) gets lanes to shoot the puck or to find sticks, he does a really good job at it,” Thompson said. “I was just in a soft area and nobody saw me. That's kind of what you get for shooting pucks to the net.”

Fort Wayne goalie Michael Houser thwarted everything else sent his way, including a Ryan Harrison wraparound attempt that required him to slide to his left to barely keep the puck out of the net, and he finished with 20 saves to Cannata's 28.

“It was the hardest-working game I've seen the whole year,” Houser said. “The last 10, 12 minutes was really fun to play. They didn't get much and we just suffocated them. Everybody was going 100 mph, working hard and working smart. Our neutral zone was airtight and we capitalized on our scoring chance and shut it down, and that's how you win these types of games.”

The Florida Everblades, who won the regular-season championship, are awaiting the winner of this series after dispatching the Adirondack Thunder 4-1.

Houser was understandably not pleased with the first goal he gave up, a shot by Cliff Watson for a 1-0 lead 19:02 into the first period. Watson sent the puck from the left circle and it slipped between the left post and Houser, who had stopped point-blank shots earlier in the period from Drayson Bowman, Michael Joly, Joey Ratelle and Ryan Olsen.

“There are saves that he's not supposed to make that he makes. Every goalie is going to let a weak one in here and there, but that's the whole point of having a team,” Thompson said. “We're there to pick him up and we have confidence in him to make those saves. If something like that goes in, we know he's on top of his game and is going to make the next save for us.”

The best scoring chance the Komets had in the first period was on the game's first shot, when Cannata stopped Shawn Szydlowski at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.

“We weren't happy with out first period. We had a lot more to give,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “I don't know if the nerves were getting to us early on, but in the second period we really started settling in and we had some great scoring chances.”

A nifty move at the blue line to leave J.C. Beaudin in his wake allowed Szydlowski to send a no-look pass to Schaafsma, who tied it by flicking the puck into the top of the net 14:13 into the second period.

The Eagles responded 3:08 later when Nicolas Meloche sent the puck out from behind the Fort Wayne net and Julien Nantel smacked it home. But Fort Wayne's Bobby Shea tied it at 2 with a 20-foot wrist shot that went high on Cannata at 18:54, thanks to another setup from Szydlowski.

“I thought (Schaafsma) was just absolutely phenomenal, probably the best player on the ice. He was just possessed. So was Shawn Szydlowski. You really look to your captains to be big in these moments and I thought Shawn and Jamie were great and they led by example,” said Graham.

The Eagles are 10-0 all-time in series when they've gained a 3-2 lead, but the Komets are one step close to making sure that doesn't hold. Amazingly, the biggest weapon they had in the first five games, their power play, didn't look good in this one and was 0 for 3. Colorado was 0 for 2.

“Our power play could have been better. We're going to have to dial in and take advantage of those minutes where we can get an opportunity,” Thompson said.

The Komets' Daniel Maggio and the Eagles' Ratelle were back on the ice after serving their three-game suspensions for fighting during warm-ups of Game 2. Justin MacDonald sat in Maggio's place.

The other combatants from the melee, Fort Wayne's Dennis Kravchenko and Colorado's Gabriel Verpaelst, are eligible to play in Game 7.

jcohn@jg.net