The Komets’ chances of getting the top seed for the Western Conference playoffs have dwindled to almost nothing. They need to win their final three games, all against the Utah Grizzlies in West Valley City, Utah, and get some help from other teams.
That may be the least of the Komets' problems after losing 5-2 in Indianapolis to the Indy Fuel, which is on the cusp of qualifying for the Eastern Conference playoffs thanks to defeating Fort Wayne in back-to-back games.
The Komets, who got goals from Zach Pochiro early in Monday’s game and Marco Roy late, went 12-7-2 in the I-69 Rivalry.
Now, the third-place Komets (27-16-5, .615 winning percentage) have to rekindle their early season magic and build momentum for a first-round, best-of-5 series that will most likely be against the Allen Americans, currently in second place, or, perhaps, the first-place Wichita Thunder.
“I thought you could see a team playing not to get hurt because we’ve already clinched (a playoff spot), and they had energy and were playing very competitive and desperate hockey to (try and) punch their ticket to the playoffs,” said Komets coach Ben Boudreau, adding the Komets “need” to get momentum before the postseason.
“We lost a lot of one-on-one battles and that’s just what it came down to. We were chasing the puck and following the puck, losing our man, so there was a lack of focus and lack of execution tonight."
There was some good news, namely that the Komets scored first after allowing the first goal in nine straight games. And the goal was from Pochiro, who intercepted a Dmitry Osipov pass to score on a breakaway 8:44 into the first period, snapping a streak of 13 games in which Pochiro hadn’t netted one. Pochiro now has 12 goals and 23 points in 29 games.
But the Komets' offense remained generally out of sorts – Indy’s Billy Christopoulos stopped 30 shots and the power play was 0 for 5 – giving Fort Wayne only 14 goals over its last eight games. The only time it exceeded two goals in that span was in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Fuel in an overtime shootout.
“We’re trying find our stride right now,” Pochiro said. “We’ve got some guys who are normally in the lineup that are out of the lineup, and we’ve already clinched and are probably trying to conserve ourselves to not get hurt or whatnot. Mentally, going into a game like that is going to be tough; their team is all-or-nothing and is going to have a different mindset than we do.
"But I wouldn’t (panic). As far as our fans and stuff, I wouldn't worry too much because this team is going to be fine. We're going to get back on track, come the time that it matters."
Dylan Ferguson stopped 33 shots for the Komets, in front of 1,627 fans at Indiana Farmers Coliseum. He was bested by Terry Broadhurst off a rebound; Michael Pelech off a redirection; Nick Hutchison on a wraparound; Alex Rauter after Ferguson had made a stop and bobbled the puck with his stick; and Osipov after Ferguson mishandled the puck.
(Video highlights are above.)
Osipov’s goal was preceded by Roy’s 16:46 into the third period, set up by Nick Boka slithering through the defense and making a centering pass. Boka was then assessed a game misconduct for abuse of officials; he'd been decked in the face after setting up the Roy goal.
Indy (35-23-8, .591) scored on 1 of 3 power plays, though another goal came just after an A.J. Jenks elbowing penalty expired.
The Komets could still drop to the fourth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, if they fail to get a point at Utah, where they play Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
“We definitely (want momentum) and we will get it, we will,” Pochiro said. “I don’t think any of the guys are worried that we’re off track or anything like that. Some stuff needs to get cut out, some of the distractions and whatnot, and I think they will when it comes down to it.”
Notes: The Komets are 4-5-1 since the forfeit because the players refused to get on the bus for a May 4 game at Indianapolis after a Fuel player had tested positive for COVID-19. … The Komets played without Justin Vaive, who had been in every previous game this season, Morgan Adams-Moisan, Matthew Boudens and Marcus McIvor. … Anthony Petruzzelli is the only player to appear in every Fort Wayne game. … The referee was Jacob Rekucki.