It certainly isn't the way they would have scripted it, but the Komets remained undefeated in games they've led heading into the third period by defeating the Wheeling Nailers 5-2 on Friday night.
The Komets are 11-0-0 when leading at the second intermission, but to maintain that they had to cough up a two-goal lead Friday and then rally with goals from Bobby Shea, Shawn Szydlowski and Mason Baptista in front of 7,469 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“Obviously, losing a 2-nothing lead in the third at home is tough,” said Shea, whose Komets saw Wheeling's Cam Brown score from the right circle at 11:11 and Reid Gardiner score from the opposite side 2:19 later, on a night that Fort Wayne goaltender Michael Houser was nearly impenetrable with 28 saves.
“We just had to keep going, put pucks on net, and we found a way,” Shea said. “That's what good teams do. We didn't panic when we lost the lead and they tied it up. And we came out on top.”
Shea's goal at 15:23 was set up by a pass from the left wing by Gabriel Desjardins, who had three assists and a plus-4 rating. After the Komets (18-8-2) killed off just the second power play of the game, because Ryan Culkin was penalized for cross-checking, Szydlowski polished off a 2-on-1 rush at 18:19 and Baptista added an empty-net goal.
Wheeling (16-12-2), which got 25 saves from Will King, is 0-8-0 when trailing after two periods.
“I thought it was a classic example of us sitting back on a lead and we don't want to be known for that,” said coach Gary Graham, whose Komets have won 13 of their last 16 games. “That's not the way we play hockey around here. We started throwing away pucks. We had chances to still play puck-possession hockey, and anytime you give a very offensive hockey team like that a chance to keep coming at you like that with the puck, you're setting yourself up for trouble. We've got to learn from that. Our best defense is continuing to push the pace offensively.”
Netting first-period goals for the Komets were Dennis Kravchenko, who eluded defenseman Zach Tolkinen and snapped a shot from the bottom of the left circle past King, and Culkin, whose 45-foot shot took advantage of a Louick Marcotte screen.
The Komets are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games against the Nailers at the Coliseum and have won 10 of the last 17 meetings overall.
“Let's be honest, (Houser) was the star of the game. He made some big saves early on and gave us the confidence we needed to beat a team like Wheeling,” said Graham, whose Komets play the Quad City Mallards tonight in Moline, Illinois, before returning to the Coliseum for a 7:30 p.m. game Sunday against the Toledo Walleye that will be preceded by Fort Wayne's Addison Agen, runner-up on “The Voice,” singing the national anthem.
Notes: Artur Tyanulin returned to Tucson of the American Hockey League, leaving the Komets scrambling just to field a full 18-player lineup. They claimed forward Justin MacDonald off waivers from the Adirondack Thunder, for which he was scoreless in five games.