INDIANAPOLIS – One of the rarest situations in all of hockey presented itself Friday night when the Indy Fuel pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker with the game tied and 1 minute remaining in the third period.
The Komets were ready.
Cody Sol and Shawn Szydlowski had key shot blocks in the waning seconds of regulation time to ensure Fort Wayne got the point in the standings it needed to clinch a postseason berth.
It was only somewhat important that the Komets would eventually win 3-2 in an overtime shootout, during which J.C. Campagna and Anthony Nellis scored and Zach Fucale thwarted shots from Indy's Josh Shalla and Mathew Thompson.
“Obviously, there's a weight off that we've made the playoffs and that's great, but it doesn't really change anything,” Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma said. “We've still got to focus on improving our game. It hasn't been good enough lately and we know that. We're trying to be more consistent, game in and game out.”
The Komets retook third place in the Central Division, one point ahead of the Kalamazoo Wings. Fort Wayne has two games remaining, the first at 7:30 tonight at Memorial Coliseum against the regular-season champion Cincinnati Cyclones and the second at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Coliseum against the Wheeling Nailers. Kalamazoo has one game left.
The difference between the third and fourth seed in the divisional playoffs would be a matchup with Toledo instead of Cincinnati.
“Either way we face a tough opponent,” Schaafsma said. “It doesn't really matter, but we want to finish with two wins and playing good hockey, and let the cards fall where they may.”
There was an ugly scene early in overtime Friday at Indiana Farmers Coliseum, as Indy's Ryan Rupert crushed Sean Flanagan into the boards from behind, then punched linesmen Christopher Williams square to the face during the ensuing melee. Both Flanagan and Williams left injured.
“I thought it was a gutless hit,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “I could see the way (Rupert) lined up to take the faceoff that his body language was bad because, obviously, their season was over and he knew it. He pushed the puck forward and dumped it into himself. I could see right away what was going to happen. It's frustrating to see, since we've been dropping like flies, and hopefully Flanagan is going to be all right. I expect the league to do something about that.”
Fucale stopped 31 shots. Indy's Matt Tomkins stopped 44.
The Fuel had won the first half of the home-and-home series 5-2 by scoring five unanswered goals, but the Komets got good news afterward: Defensemen Sol and Chase Stewart could return from their ankle injuries.
Fort Wayne's Brady Shaw opened the scoring by coming around the back of the net and slipping the puck inside the right post, but Brett Welychka answered during a power play.
After the Komets failed on several attempts to clear the puck, the Fuel capitalized with a Woody Hudson shot from 14 feet out for a 2-1 lead at 15:29 of the second period.
But Indy's Olivier Labelle collided with Fucale, sparking an 11-player scrum, and Rupert's delay-of-game penalty for chipping the puck into the stands set up Szydlowski for the tying goal during a 5-on-3 power play.
“(The Fuel was) a gritty team tonight that came out banging, and I thought we did a good job of taking care of the puck,” Graham said. “Obviously, we've been focused on that and it was a lot better for us. You can't give that team many offensive looks because they're deadly in transition.”