The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 28, 2021 11:40 pm

Physical play sparks offense: K's win in OT, clinch playoff berth

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Just when it seemed the Komets’ offense was cursed, and just when it seemed it might take another night to clinch a playoff berth, they upped their physical play.

And it made all the difference.

Big hits led to big goals – scored by Matt Murphy late in the third period and Brandon Hawkins in overtime – as the Komets defeated the Indy Fuel 2-1 at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis tonight.

“That was one of our focuses during the week of preparation – to come back to our roots, get pucks in corners, and go bang bodies,” Hawkins said. “And once we did that, it was kind of like our offensive ability came out of the woodwork and we were able to get some scoring chances.”

With five games remaining in the regular season, starting 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Indianapolis, the Komets (27-15-4) have locked up one of the four Western Conference playoff spots. With a .630 winning percentage, they’re in second place but could still catch Wichita (.657).

Robbie Beydoun stopped 25 shots for the Komets. Sean Romeo stopped 24 for the Fuel (33-23-8), after turning aside all 33 he faced in the previous meeting between the teams, a 1-0 Indy victory May 16.

Romeo wasn’t solved tonight until a goal 13:35 into the third period by Murphy, who had been set up by an Anthony Nellis pass from behind the Indy net. The Fuel was still reeling from a Nellis hit at the blue line of Matt Marcinew.

In the 4-on-4 overtime, Fort Wayne’s A.J. Jenks crushed Peter Krieger into the boards, setting off a 2-on-1 rush that saw Hawkins win the game on an assist from Murphy.

After the contest, Indy’s coach, Doug Christiansen, was irate with referee Nolan Bloyer, likely because both goals had been set up by hits he thought should have been penalties.

“When we look at the game, a lot of our scoring chances came off of being physical,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “Oliver Cooper finished a hit in the first period and he was put (into the lineup) to bring a little more of that physical element. … As long as we were going through guys, we ended up creating offense through good, hard physical play, for sure.”

The Komets, nonetheless, have scored only nine goals over their last six games, well below expectations for a team that came in ranked second with 3.36 goals per game.

“It’s frustrating when you can’t score, to be honest,” Boudreau said. “It’s something that we’re not used to, just because we haven’t gone through a drought like this in awhile. But the one thing that we changed was keeping our composure. I thought with the big last weekend (losing 2 of 3) to Wichita, we weren’t scoring, and we let it eat at us and get us away from our game.

“This one was very much more of a patient, methodical approach, shift after shift, and you’ve got to play a 60-minute game. We found a way – a little bit later than we would have liked – but we stayed with it and that was the big thing.”

Indy’s lone goal came from Krieger, 7:25 into the first period, on the redirection of a Willie Raskob shot.

Meanwhile, the Komets failed to score on odd-man rushes galore, hitting a few posts along the way.

“It was a stay-the-course type of thing,” Hawkins said. “And everybody understood that; we didn’t have anybody too frustrated on the bench. It was, ‘Alright, we’re going to get another chance, just keep going and it’ll come.’”

The Komets played without Shawn Szydlowski, Stephen Harper, Jackson Leef and Marcus McIvor, and now they must concentrate on playoff seeding for the first round of the playoffs. While the most likely scenario would have Fort Wayne facing third-place Allen, the Komets could still catch Wichita for first place in the conference. The Thunder lost 4-3 tonight to Tulsa, which got a goal from former Komets defenseman Curtis Leonard with seven seconds remaining in regulation time.

“I think the pressure is off a little bit from getting a win and clinching a playoff spot,” Hawkins said. “I think that’s big-time. Now we can settle in and go into the playoffs with a good roll here.”

Fort Wayne is 12-6-1 against Indy. Jenks has six goals and 15 points in 17 games between the teams. Hawkins has eight goals and 14 points in 12 games. Beydoun is 4-0-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average, a .939 save percentage and one shutout against the Fuel.


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