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The Journal Gazette

  • Ashley Potts | Colorado Eagles Komets defenseman Jason Binkley, middle, holds onto the Colorado Eagles' Shawn St-Amant as they race for the puck in the corner at the Budweiser Events Center on Wednesday, as Fort Wayne's Mason Baptista, left, chases in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

  • Jordan Reyes Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets goaltender Michael Houser, left, makes a save on the Colorado Eagles' Michael Joly on Wednesday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado, in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Thursday, May 24, 2018 12:13 am

Colorado 4Komets 3

K's squander lead, lose Game 7

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

It just goes to show you, never count out a defending champion.

The Komets were minutes from making it to the Kelly Cup finals for the first time, a two-goal lead in the hostile territory of the Budweiser Events Center looking firm.

But the Colorado Eagles' Matt Garbowsky made a great play by breaking to the net and smacking a cross-ice pass into the back of the net 12 minutes into the third period. And Joey Ratelle took advantage of an awful line change by the Komets and netted a shot from the left circle at 16:51, and suddenly it was going to overtime in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

In overtime, with Dennis Kravchenko in the penalty box for running into goaltender Joe Cannata after he'd made a stop – a play the Eagles had just done at the other end without being penalized – Colorado's Ryan Olsen scored a power-play goal off a rebound for a 4-3 victory.

The Eagles will face the Florida Everblades in the Kelly Cup finals.

Kravchenko was back in the Fort Wayne lineup after serving his suspension for fighting Gabriel Verpaelst during the Game 2 warmups. Rookie all-star Artur Tyanulin sat out in his place. Ryan Culkin also was scratched, after suffering an injury in Game 6, a 3-2 Fort Wayne victory, and he was replaced by rookie Kevin McKernan.

It didn't take long for the Komets to take the lead – it was their first shot of the game – with Cody Sol sending a slapshot from just inside the blue line into the top of the net 2:07 into the first period. Colorado's Drayson Bowman, all alone at the bottom of the right circle, snapped the puck under the arm of goaltender Michael Houser to tie it at 1 at 4:50.

The rest of the period was ruled by the goaltending – Houser stopped Michael Joly on a breakaway and Cannata thwarted Garrett Thompson and Trevor Cheek on breakaways – until Fort Wayne captain Jamie Schaafsma polished off a 2-on-1 rush at 19:19 for a 2-1 lead.

The Komets held Colorado without a shot on its first two power plays and had an 18-12 advantage in shots through two periods. In the second period, Sol had the most significant play, kneeling to block a shot that was heading into an open net.

With the crowd of 4,415 trying to infuse life into the Eagles, Brady Shaw broke in alone on net in the opening seconds of the third period and Houser made the save, and he thwarted Shaw again at 6:30 during a power play.

Fort Wayne's Shawn Szydlowski made it 3-1 by scoring on a breakaway at 8:02, just after the penalty had expired, but the Eagles still had life and Matt Garbowsky netted a one-timer at 12:00. Colorado's Joey Ratelle tied it at 3 with a blistering shot from the left circle at 16:51, after the Komets got caught making a lackadaisical line change.

The Komets outshot the Eagles 26-20 in regulation.

Notes: The referees were Stephen Thomson and Chris Pontes. … Former Komets player Leo Thomas was hired as head coach with Macon of the Southern Professional Hockey League. He's the first black coach in league history and the only one in North American pro hockey. He replaces another former Komet, Kevin Kerr, who was hired by Greenville of the ECHL to replace Fort Wayne-native Brian Gratz. … The Komets also played without Justin MacDonald, Phelix Martineau (lower body) and Justin Hodgman (concussion). … Bruce Taylor, for whom the Western Conference trophy is named, was the founder of the West Coast Hockey League, which ceased operations in 2003. The Taylor Cup was the WCHL's playoff trophy.