The Komets felt immense pressure to stop their slide in the standings by winning Wednesday's game against the Kalamazoo Wings.
The relief of pulling out the 3-2 victory, capped by Drake Rymsha going the length of the ice for an overtime goal, was apparent in a celebratory locker room and coach Ben Boudreau, alongside his jubilant young son, Cooper, explaining just how much the night meant.
“Two points can spell relief, 100%,” Boudreau said. “There's no question that this city puts a lot of pressure on everybody. And so it should. There's 68 years of success and we don't want to be that team that misses out on the playoffs. There's an enormous amount of pressure and some guys thrive under it.”
The Komets have fallen into the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with 23 games left in the regular season. They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013, their first season in the ECHL, and for only the third time since 1996.
But Wednesday's victory, albeit against the division's worst team, which had rallied to tie it at 2 in the third period, sparked an air of positivity for the Komets.
“You understand that the fans are passionate. So when you're not winning, there are problems in Fort Wayne. When you're winning, this is the best place to play,” Boudreau said. “For us to have that response, and that kind of comeback in the game, it's absolutely huge. I'm proud and I'm looking at this as a statement game that now we can take it, get over the hump and keep it going.”
The Komets (22-19-8) play host to the third-place Indy Fuel (26-19-3) at 8 p.m. today in Memorial Coliseum, then go on the road to play the fifth-place Wheeling Nailers (21-20-5) 7 p.m. Saturday in West Virginia.
While the Komets haven't had anything resembling their full lineup since November, Dylan Ferguson (illness) returned Wednesday and stopped 27 shots.
“He just looked comfortable for a guy who hadn't played a full game in (about six weeks),” Rymsha said. “He looked really comfortable. We really wanted to put a good effort in for him. It would mean a lot to him and he played out of his mind. He did a great job and got us the win.”
Leading-scorer Brady Shaw (concussion), all-star Shawn St-Amant (upper body) and Brad Morrison (lower body) are possible to return today, and Chase Stewart and Kyle Haas have the final two games of their six-game ECHL suspensions to serve.
Boudreau is excited about having a full complement of players and creating internal competition for ice time, but he wants his team to start skating with swagger again.
“We played 60 minutes, plus more, and we found a way to win (Wednesday). As far as a confidence builder, you remember what that feeling's like to win,” Boudreau said. “That's what you remember, the collective feeling as a group, and for us it's been too far and few between of remembering that feeling. Now we get that swagger back. Now we're getting healthy. And that's going to be big for us as confidence goes.”
The Komets have won back-to-back games only once since Dec. 6 to Jan. 3 and 4 against Indy and Kalamazoo – and that must change for Fort Wayne to have any success down the stretch.
“We're getting a lot of guys healthy again. We're starting to get our team back,” Rymsha said. “We've just got to put the same effort forward for Friday, maybe do a little bit more. At this time of year, it's do or die, and we need as many points as we can get. We're looking to capitalize on Friday, as well.”
Pink the rink
The Komets and the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer will again partner for “Pink the Rink” nights to fight breast cancer and promote awareness for early detection and treatment. The ninth annual games will be 8 p.m. Feb. 21 against Toledo and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 against Indy.
“We look forward to this event every year,” said Lynda Houk, executive director of the Vera Bradley Foundation. “There is always a sea of pink in the stands and on the ice with the fans and the Komets team showing their support by wearing pink. Survivors are honored with a special recognition and funds are raised for breast cancer research.”
“Pink the Rink” games have raised more than $128,000.
The Komets will wear special jerseys that will be auctioned off and autographed pucks will be specially wrapped and sold for $10 each.
Komets vs. Indy
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Coliseum
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: WesBanco Arena, Wheeling, West Virginia
Radio: 1190 AM, 107.5 FM