The Komets can’t afford to lose much if they want to grab one of the Eastern Conference’s eight playoff spots.
And lately, they haven’t.
Matt Carter scored two goals, Brandon Marino had three assists, and the Komets defeated the Wheeling Nailers 4-3 on Sunday at Memorial Coliseum, extending Fort Wayne’s recent surge to 6-1-3.
It was important to not only get two points, but to make sure Wheeling didn’t get any points, said coach Gary Graham, whose Komets (23-15-11) are tied for sixth place with 23 games remaining in the regular season.
We had a heavy workweek with games four out of five days, and they had the same thing, and there would be no excuses. Everyone is scratching and clawing for position in the conference.
The Komets improved to 2-1-1 against the Nailers (24-20-6), who are tied for ninth place and just three points back.
We went out with that mentality that we were going to shoot everything, that we would shoot well, and it worked out for us, said Carter, after the Komets outshot the Nailers 36-23, in front of 7,526 fans.
Wheeling opened the scoring on its first shot, 6:46 into the first period, after Jordon Southorn coughed up the puck at his own blue line. That allowed Denver Manderson to break toward the Fort Wayne net, but Simon Danis-Pepin dislodged the puck. Still, Wheeling’s Zach Torquato was able to send a pass to Max MacKay for a goal past goaltender Andrey Makarov.
The Komets tied it at 14:27, when Carter broke behind the defense, drew goalie Peter Mannino to the ice and then sent the puck above his outstretched glove.
I saw (Marino) coming down the ice with me and I think the goalie thought I was going to try and make the pass to him or just shoot it. I just pulled it around and saw an empty net, so that’s where I put it, Carter said. It was a little bit of luck, but that’s how the game goes. I had speed, the goalie came out and I beat him.
Mannino has played six NHL games with the New York Islanders, Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets.
After the Carter goal, Fort Wayne captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock fought Justin Smith, and the game was scoreless until 4:17 of the third period. Marino skated down the left wing, then pulled up and streaked to center ice before sending a pass to Chris Auger, who flipped the puck over Mannino for a 2-1 lead. Auger is second in the ECHL with 23 goals, six back of Orlando’s Mickey Lang, who began the season with the Komets.
After a Wheeling turnover at center ice, Fort Wayne forward Shawn Szydlowski made it 3-1 by snapping in a shot from the right circle at 5:33. The Nailers’ Mike Ratchuk, who had coughed up the puck on that play, atoned at 9:02 with a power-play goal from 40 feet out.
With a delayed penalty coming on the Nailers, Marino’s pass out of the left corner set up Carter for a slap shot goal and a 4-2 lead at 13:27 that cemented the victory. Marino leads the ECHL with 65 points, including 44 assists, in 49 games this season.
Winning the third period on home ice, that’s got to be the headline, Graham said. We’ve had our difficulties in the third period, but tonight it was our best period. That last minute (after Torquato scored), we had more anxiety for the coach, but the guys found a way to get it done.