CINCINNATI – When the Komets play their most desperate hockey, they tend to play their best hockey. That point was reinforced Tuesday night, when their season was on the line – again – in hostile territory and they walloped the Cincinnati Cyclones 6-0 to force a Game 7 of the Central Division semifinals.
“We were a desperate team and we had a lot of belief in that locker room,” said Matt Alvaro, one of the goal scorers in front of 3,057 spectators at the Heritage Bank Center. “We know that if we play the way we have been playing, we’re going to get the results. So, it was a full 60 minutes and we’re on to Game 7.”
The Komets skated at a frenetic pace and built an early lead, but ominous signs loomed for two periods: They had a seemingly endless array of missed opportunities, even as they got goals from Anthony Petruzzelli, Alvaro and William Provost; they couldn’t stay out of the penalty box (that’s been their nemesis in this series every bit as much as the division-champion Cyclones); and Cincinnati tested goaltender Ryan Fanti with 32 shots and physicality in the crease.
Not until Samuel Dove-McFalls netted a goal 54 seconds into the third period for a 4-0 lead could the Komets’ faithful relax and enjoy Fanti’s second shutout of the series, along with late goals by Darien Kielb and Mark Rassell, as Cyclones fans began booing.
“I think every aspect of the game was good,” Fanti said. “We had a really, really good start. And I’m not just saying that because we scored the first goal; we dominated the pace of play and had a bunch of shots to start off, got momentum that way. … I know we took a lot more penalties to start the game, but I don’t think they were reflective of how we were playing. I thought we were unlucky and there were some iffy ones, but we stuck to our game plan.”
This was the same building the Komets coughed up a 3-0 third-period lead in the opener and lost 4-3 in overtime, then lost 2-1 in Game 2, but this time there was more of a killer instinct. It was more akin to Fanti’s 35-save shutout in Game 3.
“We talk a lot about the resilience of this team,” said Komets coach Ben Boudreau, whose team forced Game 6 against the division-champion Cyclones with a 3-2 victory Sunday at Memorial Coliseum.
“For us,” Boudreau continued, “we’re a confident hockey team and we know what we have. We’ve got this great identity and there’s a great team of camaraderie inside that dressing room right now and we’re a confident bunch. As long as everyone shows up and does their job, anything can happen in a Game 7.”
The Komets are no strangers to Game 7s. They’ve been in 15 of them throughout their 71-year history and have a 9-6 mark, including the 2016 quarterfinals when they defeated the Cyclones 2-0 at the Coliseum. But they’ve lost the last two Game 7s: 4-3 in overtime in the 2018 conference finals at Loveland, Colorado, and 3-2 in this round last year against the Wheeling Nailers at the Coliseum.
“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing,” Fanti said. “I think for the majority of this series, we’ve been the better team, even if early on we didn’t get the bulk of the results. I don’t think we change anything, we have some momentum right now. But Game 7, anything can happen. ... That’s the mindset we’re going with.”
Awaiting the winner of this series is the Toledo Walleye, which completed a sweep of the Indy Fuel on Thursday. It would have home-ice advantage over the Komets, their biggest rivals.
Cincinnati’s starting goaltender, Beck Warm, stopped 14 of 17 shots Tuesday and was replaced after two periods. Mark Sinclair, who hadn’t played since Game 1, allowed a goal to Dove-McFalls on the first shot he faced and finished with nine saves.
The Cyclones were 0 for 5 on power plays and allowed a short-handed goal to Petruzzelli.
“We got a lot of momentum off our penalty kill,” Alvaro said. “We have a lot of belief in everyone in that locker room.”
The Komets, who trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in this series, got most of their opportunities with the man-advantage in the third period, with goals from Kielb and Rassell, and finished 2 for 4 on power plays as the game devolved into post-whistle fracases.
The Komets went into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead and the Cyclones might have felt fortunate it wasn’t worse, given the amount of quality scoring chances they allowed. Fort Wayne’s captain, Petruzzelli, netted a short-handed breakaway goal 4:12 into the first period and Alvaro scored off a rebound at 16:11, though Cincinnati’s Justin Vaive had a goal waved off in between those tallies because the whistle had blown before the puck crossed the line.
In the second period, the Komets continued to pepper the Cyclones net with shots, even as they killed off four of the game’s first five power plays. But it remained only a two-goal lead until a Fanti save kicked off a rush in the other direction that saw Drake Rymsha set up Provost for a breakaway goal and a 3-0 lead at 13:39. It was Fanti’s first assist of the playoffs, after an exciting regular season that saw him score a goal, assist on three others and fight Wheeling goalie Brad Barone.
Out of the Fort Wayne lineup were forward Garrett Van Wyhe, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 5; defenseman Noah Ganske, who fell ill after that game; defenseman Adam Brubacher, who suffered an upper-body injury in Game 3; and defenseman Scott Allan, who was tending to an undisclosed personal matter. Also, defenseman Alex Peters never returned from the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.
That meant Boudreau had to move Daniel Maggio from forward to defense, so the Komets had six blue-liners. Forwards Tristian Pelletier and Provost, who both sat in Game 5, also were back on the ice.
“We’ve been dealing with that all year,” Alvaro said of the injuries. “It’s a next-man-up mentality. We know the guys can do the job, like (Provost), you see him play a few shifts and have a big impact. Same with Pelletier. We just have a lot of belief in everybody.”
Boudreau has been in this position before, facing a winner-take-all game. Not only last season, but in the 2021 playoffs there were best-of-5 series and he led the Komets to a 4-3 overtime victory over Wichita in the first round at the Coliseum. The Komets went on to win the Kelly Cup.
“The commitment level by everybody to do their job tonight was outstanding,” Boudreau said. “It started with our goalies and throughout all six defense, and the 11 forwards found a way to contribute whether it was scoring, defending, a hit, a fight, a blocked shot. Everybody found a way to do their job tonight. When you add that up, at the end of the night, it turned out to be a lopsided victory.”
Notes: The Komets asked the ECHL to review the Game 5 hit by Cincinnati’s Cody Caron that injured Van Wyhe, but the league determined no supplemental discipline was warranted. Caron got a minor boarding penalty for the hit and then fought Fort Wayne’s Jacob Graves. The Komets have lost three players from questionable hits in the series, including Brubacher for three games and Rymsha for two. … Cincinnati has had only one player miss time due to an injury in the series: Luka Burzan. And the Cyclones got back Yushiroh Hirano for Tuesday’s game, after he’d been skating with Japan’s national team. … The referees Tuesday were Trevor Wohlford and John Lindner. … The Cyclones are 5-1 in series they’ve led 3-1. The loss was in their first ECHL season, 2006-07, to the Dayton Bombers.