When the handshake came – far too quickly, no doubt – words must have fled Jason Christie. What do you say, after all, when precedent laughs you right out of the joint?
And so the vanquished Bloomington PrairieThunder formed the traditional end-of-series handshake line last Wednesday, and the triumphant Fort Wayne Komets formed a line, and at the end of it, Christie, the PrairieThunders coach, got to Al Sims, the Komets coach. And all that was left to say was all that was left to say.
Your teams just playing unbelievable right now, Christie said, or so Sims recalls.
Theyre playing so unbelievable it must have left Christie and the PrairieThunder with their heads spinning, so swiftly did the fortunes turn last week. Bloomington came into its series with Fort Wayne having won 7 of 10 meetings including the last four, outscoring the Komets 16-7 in those four games. And it exited just shy of 100 hours later, having been swept 3-0 in the best-of-five and outscored 14-6.
So what happened, exactly?
Those two games with Colorado, Sims said last week, immediately. Taking three of four points against them, that really propelled us and made us believers that we can compete with the best in this league, and we just proved it to ourselves.
That was the key, defenseman Guy Dupuis agrees.
And, sure, its not that simple, because athletic confidence is a fickle beast and when you manage to throw a rope around it, even for a short time, its because a dozen things have all come together at once. But it has to start somewhere – and the consensus, in this case, is that it started on the evenings of March 25 and 26.
The 25th was the night division-leading Colorado came to Fort Wayne on the last weekend of the regular season, and the Eagles proceeded to beat the Komets the way a first-place team is supposed to beat what was then a seventh-place team. Having already handled the Komets easily in Colorado two weeks before – the final there was 6-1 – they led 5-2 going to the third period.
But then, as they say, stuff happened.
Like a goal from Colin Chaulk and another from Leo Thomas and another from Derek Patrosso to tie it at 5.
Like another goal from Thomas to force overtime, after Colorado regained the lead.
Like a 7-6 overtime loss that served as the prelude to a 2-1 victory the next night, Tab Lardner getting both Komets goals, the Komets outshooting the Eagles 33-27.
All of a sudden, this wasnt a seventh-place team. This was the sixth seed you dont want to play in the playoffs.
For that, you can send the thank-you notes to Loveland, Colo., home of the Eagles.
If you look at a team like Colorado, Dupuis said last week, theyre so talented, and for us to come here and play as well as we did, and for the most part outwork em, it just gave us a little boost of confidence that, hey, we can beat anybody in the league if we work as hard if not harder than our opposition.
Most of the time during the season, when we played Bloomington, they just outworked us. Cant hide it. So when we outworked Colorado and were able to beat them we just kept it up. Now the rest of the playoffs we have to do the same things.
Because they know, finally, that they can.