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 on Friday.
“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. today at Indianapolis, the Komets (27-15-4) have locked up one of the four Western Conference playoff spots.
Robbie Beydoun stopped 25 shots for the Komets. Sean Romeo turned away 24 for the Fuel (33-23-8), after stopping all 33 he faced in the previous meeting between the teams, a 1-0 Indy victory May 16.
Romeo wasn't solved Friday 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.
“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 into Friday 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 a while. 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 goal came from Krieger, 7:25 into the first period, on the redirection of a Willie Raskob shot.