It was going to take a lot to emerge as the man of the game Saturday, but Alan Lyszczarczyk accomplished the feat by sneaking behind the defense, accepting Brady Shaw's pass along the boards, faking goaltender Jordan Ruby to the ice and snapping a forehand into the top of the net.
That cemented a 5-4 overtime victory for the Komets over the Wheeling Nailers on a night that had no shortage of storylines in front of 7,226 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
“It was a very good pass from Shawsy,” said Lyszczarczyk, a rookie. “I just got the guys behind me, made this move, and it's something I work on in practice always.”
The goal was set up by a Cole Kehler sprawling save on Marc-Olivier Duquette, who was traded to the Nailers earlier this season for cash. Kehler's night include a breathtaking early save on Alec Butcher – Kehler dove onto his belly to keep the puck from going inside the left goalpost – but Kehler allowed three goals on four Wheeling shots in the second period as Fort Wayne fell into a 4-1 hole.
“We returned the favor and that's the biggest thing,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “We had a 4-1 lead in Wheeling (on Nov. 17) and they came back to win (6-5) in overtime. Wheeling comes into our barn and gets a 4-1 lead, then we come back to tie it and win it in overtime. It's unbelievable how these storylines write themselves.
“I think it was really important for our group to be determined and come back. Nobody wants to sit there and sulk. We found a way to the job done. We stayed with the program and got the gutsy win.”
The comeback began with a Lyszczarczyk goal 14:13 into the second period that took advantage of Brad Ross battling in front of the net, drawing a Wheeling penalty and providing a screen. With another delayed penalty coming, the Komets maintained the puck for about 20 seconds before Brycen Martin scored from the right circle at 15:31.
And Shawn St-Amant tied it at 4 after a cross-crease pass from Shaw at 18:06.
“For sure, we just played how we wanted with a hard forecheck. We got a little lucky on two goals – it was 6-on-5 on both – but that's hockey and we needed it,” said Lyszczarczyk, who has eight goals and 15 points in 14 games.
Kehler finished with 20 saves. Ruby had 40.
There were some nervous moments after Kehler allowed the third goal to Cam Brown, who deked with the puck and then landed on Kehler's head. The Komets' other goalie, Dylan Ferguson, was unavailable due to illness and Fort Wayne-native Alex Zion was an emergency backup.
After Kehler was tended to by trainer Matt Willett for a couple minutes, he remained in the game. He allowed Ryan Scarfo to score on the next shot but Kehler stopped the remaining 12 shots he faced.
Also scoring for the Nailers were Brandon Hawkins and Butcher. Fort Wayne's first goal was courtesy of a Ross breakaway for a 1-0 lead 5:45 into the first period.
On the heels of Friday's loss, Boudreau said it was pivotal that A.J. Jenks was back in the lineup Saturday after missing three games.
“He wanted to come back. He wasn't entirely ready to come back, but his presence in that locker room, on the ice, in the faceoff circle, on the power play, it made huge dividends,” Boudreau said. “Hat's off to a veteran guy understanding when his team needs him. I thought that was absolutely huge for him to play on one leg and help our team get the victory.”