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Closing out series proves challenging

Ben Smith
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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette

The Kometsí Mike Vaskivuo celebrates after scoring on a penalty shot against Wichita in Game 4 of the Presidentsí Cup finals.

FORT WAYNE – So, what am I bid for this broom here?

Not worth a whole lot now, as one last chance knocks on the door and runs away, and the horn screams, and all the air goes out of a Memorial Coliseum stuffed 10,480 deep with traffic-cone orange.

Not worth much, as the Komets chime the pipes more than the Boston Pops, and as Mike Vaskivuo’s penalty shot 19 seconds into Game 4 Saturday night becomes a sign of nothing to come, and as the Wichita Thunder comes shambling out of the tomb like Marley’s scolding ghost.

What is it everyone says? Nothing’s tougher than closing someone out?

What was it Nick Boucher said, sitting on the bench dripping sweat at the end of practice one day this week?

“That’s still a dangerous team over there,” he said, looking across the empty ice.

Dangerous enough to harsh this orange mellow, surely.

Dangerous enough to shake off that penalty shot, and to answer every time the Komets went ahead Saturday night, and to – what’s this? – sublet what had been Komets’ property alone in this series, the third period, and make themselves at home.

Outshot 39-21, outshot 10-3 in the third, Thomas Beauregard nonetheless took the only shot that counted for Wichita, planting one behind Boucher with a shade under 10 minutes to play. And that was it. That was the ballgame, 4-3, Wichita.

The Komets got one more golden chance at the tie, but Frankie DeAngelis’ shot at an open net in the last three seconds became the last puck to deflect off a post for the Komets (“At least four,” coach Al Sims said when asked how many times the Komets hit posts or crossbars), and the thing was done.

And so, put the brooms back in the closet. Take the champagne off ice. Put the Presidents’ Cup back in whatever it goes back in, and move on to Game 5.

There are three more chances to get this closeout thing right, so they’ve got that going for them. They’ve also got all those chances whose only crime was failing geometry, clinking off posts or crossbars and ricocheting out instead of in.

No frustration in that, it turns out. Only renewed hope.

“If we finish our chances, this isn’t a series,” Sims said.

“A game like that, it happens. Just got to make sure we’re ready when the puck drops Monday night,” said Jean-Michel Rizk, whose seventh goal of the playoffs gave the Komets their last lead of the night.

That was with just less than 15 minutes to play in the second period, and the flags waved and the Coliseum thundered and the Cup was right there for the hoisting. And then it wasn’t.

And then, 90 minutes or so later, everyone on the home side was putting the best face on keeping a dangerous opponent breathing.

“I think we played a pretty good game. We just need more of the same,” Colin Chaulk said.

“We just ran out of time tonight.”

And here’s the good news in that: There’s another night to come.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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