The Komets needed goals Saturday night, and they got two of them from left wing Tab Lardner, as they defeated the Colorado Eagles 2-1 to surprisingly grab the sixth seed for the upcoming CHL playoffs.
It has often seemed this season as if Lardner was providing all the offense, and on this night he really was.
Lardner was just spectacular. He was just possessed. He goes in and makes it look easy, Fort Wayne coach Al Sims said. For everybody else, it’s like there’s a brick wall, 6 by 4, that they can’t get through.
As the Komets ready for their best-of-five Turner Conference Quarterfinals series against the third-seeded Bloomington PrairieThunder – both were in the IHL the last three seasons, when the Komets won all three championships – Lardner could be the most prolific scorer on the ice.
He netted 31 goals this season, when no other Fort Wayne or Bloomington player had more than Brett Holmberg’s 23.
It does mean something, for sure, because I’d never had 30 in the Central League before, said Lardner, 31, who has skated seven seasons in the CHL. Going into this season, it was kind of a goal of mine and I worked hard to get there. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind a little (to do it Saturday). It was nice to get it, get the congratulations from the guys. It’s been pretty sweet.
Lardner began the season with Missouri but was traded to Fort Wayne Nov. 26, after clashing with coach Scott Hillman.
The Komets were 5-8-1 before Lardner, 26-19-7 since he came. With the Komets, Lardner tallied 28 goals and 42 points, doing his most damage while playing on a line with Colin Chaulk and Derek Patrosso.
Me, Chaulk and Patrosso played well for the majority of the year here, Lardner said. If we can get our line scoring, and the other lines scoring, too, and if we all play solid defense, we’ll be tough to take on in the playoffs. We’re going up against a solid opponent.
The Komets were 3-7-0 against the third-seeded PrairieThunder (37-22-7), which is in the playoffs for the first time after missing the postseason its first four seasons. Coach Jason Christie, who is in his first season with Bloomington, has gotten teams into the playoffs 7 of 9 years as a head coach but never won a championship.
In eight seasons coaching the Komets, Sims has never missed the playoffs and won championships in 1993, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The series begins Saturday at Bloomington, Ill., and a key for Sims will be getting his offense, which ranks 15th with 2.85 goals per game, to penetrate the third-ranked Bloomington defense, which allows 2.86 goals per game.
We have been generating offense, Sims said. It’s unfortunate we haven’t been completing it (with goals).
Notes: With only 19 spots available for the playoffs, the Komets had to leave defenseman Brandon Warner, a Huntertown native, off the roster. Warner, who played 25 playoff games combined in 2008 and 2010, tallied five goals and 17 points in 43 games this season. Colorado’s Riley Nelson was selected as CHL MVP, after he tallied 34 goals and 93 points.