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The Journal Gazette

  • Katie Fyfe | The Journal Gazette Shawn Szydlowski and the Komets have won three straight to move within seven points of second-place Toledo.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette The Komets' Mason Baptista, right, shoots the puck past the Wheeling Nailers' Michael Phillips at Memorial Coliseum.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 1:00 am

Hot streak moves Komets away from the bubble

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Komets at Cincinnati

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: U.S. Bank Arena, Cincinnati

at Brampton

When: 4 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Where: CAA Centre, Brampton, Ontario

Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM

For much of this season, the Komets have been in a logjam of four teams – along with the Kalamazoo Wings, Wheeling Nailers and Indy Fuel – battling for third and fourth place in the Central Division.

But three straight victories have propelled the Komets back into the conversation for second place in the division; with 14 games left in the regular season, they are seven points back of the Toledo Walleye, which is on a three-game losing streak.

The Komets know they've been inconsistent this season, and are far from guaranteed of making the postseason, so they say they aren't watching the standings as closely as they are their own play.

“Honestly, no,” coach Gary Graham said. “We're just focused on trying to play the games the right way. That's been the main message for us, focusing on the process. I know it's a cliché, but it's the truth – if you just focus on playing good defense down the road, good special teams, and staying out of the (penalty) box, it gives us a chance to win. That's all we want every night is a chance to win.”

The Komets (29-20-9) play at 7:30 p.m. today against the division- and ECHL-leading Cincinnati Cyclones (42-10-7) at U.S. Bank Arena in Ohio.

The top four teams in the division will qualify for the postseason – something the Komets haven't missed since their first ECHL season in 2012-13. Wheeling and Indy would be the odd teams out now at four and five points behind fourth-place Kalamazoo.

“I just try to focus on 'one game at a time' and I think a lot of guys have taken that to heart because, if you look at the standings, it can start mentally playing with you and your focus on the game at hand,” said Fort Wayne's Mason Baptista, who had the winning goal in Saturday's 4-1 victory over Toledo at Memorial Coliseum.

“We've been just mentally focusing on just going 1-0 and just winning the next game. 'We've got to win this game.' The coaches have been coming in and stressing that we need to focus on the importance of (the next) game and not looking too far ahead.”

The Komets' roster was bolstered Tuesday with forward Brady Shaw and goaltender Zach Fucale returning from Chicago of the higher-level American Hockey League. Defenseman Chase Stewart, who had four goals and 11 points in 20 games before leaving to attend Lakehead University, rejoined the Komets on Monday.

Forward Marco Roy remains with Laval of the AHL, but this is the closest the Komets have been to a full complement of players in months.

They play the Brampton Beast (30-24-6) in Brampton, Ontario, at 4 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

“If we continue playing the right type of hockey, then the wins will come and the points will come, and we'll let the cards fall where they may,” said Baptista, who won two NCAA Division III championships with St. Norbert College and helped the Komets to Game 7 of the Western Conference finals last year.

“It's about being ready to play playoff hockey at the right time. When I (was) in college, we were not necessarily the best team but we hit our stride at the right time and then it's all about being on a roll when playoffs come around.”

jcohn@jg.net