Something had been brewing all night between the Komets and Toledo Walleye, bitterest of ECHL rivals, and it began when the Walleye's Butrus Ghafari flipped the Komets' Connor Jones, WWE-style, in the first period.
In the third period, with the Komets already having taken control on the scoreboard, Toledo's Mitchell Heard upended Dillon Hill, setting off a 10-player fracas. Shortly thereafter, Toledo's Brandon Hawkins sent Fort Wayne goaltender Liam Hughes to the ice, prompting two power-play goals within 37 seconds from the Komets' Stephen Harper at Memorial Coliseum.
If you're sensing a trend here – Toledo getting into penalty trouble – you'd be correct. The Komets' 4-1 victory saw them score on 3 of 6 power plays, as they put the memory of Wednesday's brutal 7-2 loss to the Walleye at the Coliseum behind them.
Toledo (19-7-2), which came in on a 6-0-1 run, was 1 for 4 on power plays and remains in first place in the Central Division. The third-place Komets (17-9-3) are three points back and readying for another pivotal game at 5:15 p.m. today at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
Given the way Saturday's game ended, it could be a physical rematch.
“Every single time you play Toledo, it's something you have to expect,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “I mean, both teams have a lot of pride, and both teams want to beat one another, and I think beating them on the scoreboard is what we're looking to do. We're not going in there looking to brawl; we want to score more than them and get back even in the standings. So our focus is on finding a way to win again and repeat our effort from tonight.”
Hughes, making his professional debut out of the University of Manitoba, stopped 26 of 27 shots, not allowing a goal until Brady Tomlak beat him off a rebound with 11 seconds left in front of 7,479 fans.
“We know we're a good team over here,” Harper said. “Anytime our goalie plays like that, we think we're going to win the game. We've just got to stay on course because we've got another big one tomorrow. Playing four games in five nights can be pretty tough, but we'll be up for it.”
Hughes was the eighth goalie used in 29 games by the Komets, who lost 5-4 in Cincinnati on Friday.
Fort Wayne also got goals Saturday from Shawn Szydlowski and Matt Alvaro (power play), though Toledo's goalie, Max Milosek, was infallible until the third period.
“Top to bottom, I thought it was an excellent performance,” Boudreau said. “There was only one downer and that's them scoring with 11 seconds to go in a great debut. I couldn't be happier for Liam, and I thought he deserved (the shutout).”
The ECHL suspended the Komets' Will Graber four games for making physical contact with a linesman Friday.