The Komets had trouble staying out of the penalty box. They missed defensive assignments at the worst possible moments. They repeatedly failed to clear the puck from their own zone. And they squandered home-ice advantage.
Sunday summed up what has hindered the Komets and resulted in a 3-2 loss to the defending champion Allen Americans, who cemented the come-from-behind victory with a Gary Steffes goal off a redirection 56 seconds into overtime before 5,779 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets are down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals and face the daunting task of having to win 2 of 3 at the Allen Event Center, a notoriously difficult venue to play in at Allen, Texas, if Fort Wayne wants to force the series back to the Coliseum.
"We haven’t done a good enough job of adapting in our game plan," Komets coach Gary Graham said. "There are some things that are open. We did it the first shift of the overtime period and had a great scoring chance. But we’re not working smart right now, and that’s the problem. We’re taking way too many bad penalties and hurting ourselves. It’s a very similar storyline to the first two games (of the first round) against Cincinnati. It’s very similar."
The Komets recovered from the 2-0 deficit to defeat Cincinnati in seven games, then took down Utah in a four-game sweep. But the Komets had a history of success in Cincinnati, and they’ve never had a road game against the Americans, who are trying to win a fourth straight playoff title.
Allen, which won 5-3 on Friday, has scored on 3 of 13 power plays in the series. Fort Wayne has produced one goal in only six power plays.
Referees Stephen Reneau and Tyler Puddifant weren’t on the ice when all 36 players almost came to blows during warm-ups. The ECHL’s vice president of hockey operations, Joe Ernst, was in attendance and could hand out suspensions or fines for what happened, including Allen’s Spencer Asuchak upending backup goalie Spencer Martin by gouging him from behind with his stick.
The game featured three fights, including a slugfest between Fort Wayne’s Shawn Szydlowski and Allen’s Dyson Stevenson.
Allen got the opening goal from Chad Costello, the ECHL’s leading scorer and MVP during the regular season, who netted a shot from the left circle during a power play. Fort Wayne’s Garrett Meurs tied it on a redirection. Troy Bourke netted a power-play goal from the right circle 8:41 into the second.
"This is disappointing. We haven’t adapted. We’re playing against the league’s best power play, and I give the penalty killers a lot of credit, (even though) we had a blown PK coverage on the first goal," Graham said. "Costello, the most deadly guy, gets a one-timer and that’s not supposed to happen. But it happens and the rest of the game, the guys did a great job on the penalty kill."
Allen’s Vincent Arseneau took advantage of a failed clearing attempt to tie it 19:30 into the second period, getting to a rebound and sending a shot above a sliding Szydlowski, who obstructed goalie Pat Nagle. Nagle stopped 20 of 23 shots. Allen’s starting goalie, Riley Gill, left with an injury 4:02 into the second period. He stopped 8 of 9 shots. His replacement, Joel Rumpel, stopped 15 of 16.
"We need to get back to the game plan. We got away from it these last two games," Nagle said. "Penalties have been a huge issue. Not only are they scoring on the power play, but you have a certain group of guys who are spending a lot of time on the ice and a lot of guys who are spending a lot of time sitting on the bench. We need to be playing 5-on-5."
The Komets have outscored Allen 4-3 at even strength.
"We know what we have to do. Everybody in here knows what they’re capable of," Meurs said. "We just need to get back to playing the right way and then we’ll be all right."