The Komets’ season has looked to be in jeopardy many times, but they’ve always seemed to find a way to show their mettle.
Now, their truest test is about to come.
They lost 5-1 tonight to the Toledo Walleye in front of 8,063 fans at Memorial Coliseum and they trail the best-of-7 Central Division semifinals 3-1.
The Walleye can take the series with a Game 5 victory at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, where it won the first two games, 3-2 and 6-0.
Cincinnati took a 3-1 lead over Kalamazoo tonight in the division’s other series.
Fort Wayne’s Zach Fucale stopped 18 shots but was outdone by Pat Nagle, who turned away 23 for the Walleye.
(Video highlights from the game are above.)
Nagle has been a part of all four series between these teams, played over five years, on the losing side twice for the Komets and last year with the Walleye.
Defenseman Craig Cescon had Fort Wayne’s lone goal, after it fell behind three goals.
Fort Wayne was 0 for 5 on the power play, dropping to 1 for 17 in the series. Toledo was 1 for 4 tonight, and is 5 for 19 in the series.
The Komets had three terrific chances to score in the first period, but Nagle foiled Brady Shaw and Marco Roy on shots from point-blank range and lucked out when Jake Kamrass sent a shot off a rebound just wide of the right post.
Meanwhile, Toledo’s opportunistic power-play unit provided the only goal of the period at 7:36, when David Pope followed a Shane Berschbach shot that caromed off the post with a successful shot from the right circle. The power play had been set up by a Kyle Hope slash at the end of a Bryan Moore breakaway that still required an excellent Fucale save.
Toledo took advantage of Fort Wayne’s inability to clear the puck from danger and got its second goal 3:51 into the second period, when Dylan Sadowy chipped the rebound of a Kevin Tansey shot over Fucale.
Fucale redeemed himself shortly thereafter by sliding to his left to stop a Ben Storm one-timer headed for an area just inside the post, though Fort Wayne’s Kamrass was thwarted again at the other end when his shot toward an open net was deflected out of trouble by Tansey.
On its 15th shot, Toledo took a 3-0 lead, with Tansey sending a pass from behind the net to Zach Gallant for his third goal of the series at 10:38.
Fort Wayne got its goal on its 13th shot, a blue-line blast from Cescon that sailed through a crowd at 12:16, and it was set up by Anthony Petruzzelli fighting off Matt Register, the ECHL’s three-time Defenseman of the Year, along the boards.
Fort Wayne’s Justin Hodgman, who has been snake-bitten on breakaways against Toledo all season, had another one after he stripped Register, but Nagle stopped him at 15:39 with a kick of the left leg that kept the puck out from just inside the left post.
Toledo took a commanding 4-1 lead when Moore’s shot was blocked by Ryan Lowney but Moore quickly recovered to fire another shot that went underneath Fucale at 11:15.
Ben Danford added an empty-net goal for Toledo.
Game 6, if necessary, would be at the Coliseum 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Sean Flanagan returned to the Fort Wayne lineup for the first time since suffering a head injury April 5 on a check from Indy’s Ryan Rupert, who was suspended 14 games by the ECHL for the hit and for punching a linesman. Flanagan missed five games with the injury.
Notes: The Komets played without Chase Stewart, Cam Knight, Mason Baptista, Phelix Martineau (concussion) and Matthew Weis (with Chicago of American Hockey League. … The referees were Olivier Goulin and Stan Szczurek. … The Walleye used the same lineup it has all series. … Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau attended a second straight game. He is a former coach and player with Fort Wayne and his son, Ben, is the current assistant coach.