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at South Carolina
When: 7 p.m. today and Saturday
Radio: 1190 AM, 92.3 FM

Komets work to protect inexperienced goalie

– In the waning days of the regular season, the Komets are relying on a simple, seemingly obvious, philosophy: Keep the puck out of the defensive zone.

Because of call-ups, injuries and trades, the Komets have used a franchise-record eight goaltenders this season and are now pinning their hopes on Matt Grogan, who is only three games out of the University of Connecticut.

Knowing that Grogan will need time to evolve in the professional ranks, and that top-tier forwards Dean Ouellet and Jason Dale are injured, the rest of the Komets are doing what they can to limit scoring chances for the opposition.

“We have to,” defenseman William Lacasse said. “And it’s not just an effort by the defensemen. It’s a collective effort. The forwards have to back-check harder and block shots more. We just try to play outside of our zone as much as we can. We have a good game plan before the game and we try to execute it as best as we can.”

Heading into Thursday night, with eight games remaining, the Komets (30-23-11) had 71 points and were tied for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference with Florida. The Komets were one point behind Wheeling and two ahead of Evansville.

Tonight and Saturday, the Komets play at South Carolina (38-20-6).

With goalie Ben Meisner still out of the lineup following his collapse on the ice March 19 because of an accelerated heartbeat and dizziness, the Komets have Max Strang and Grogan as their goalies. Grogan is 2-1-0 with a 3.17 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.

“I just try to be relaxed and just try to focus on stopping the puck and playing for the boys,” said Grogan, who played for Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham with the Indiana Ice’s AAA junior team in 2005-06.

That team had a nucleus of players from Fort Wayne.

“There was a Fort Wayne crew of us and I drove the kids down all the time,” said Graham, who also coached D.J. Fisher, Ryan Gidley and Larkin Saalfrank then. “We’d practice twice a week. All that driving back and forth I did.”

So how did Grogan wind up with the Komets?

“To be perfectly honest, it was a lot to do with timing,” Graham said. “His agent put his name in front of me last week and I said, ‘Holy cow, I hadn’t thought about (Grogan) in forever.’ ”

As the Komets try to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1974 and 1975, Grogan must play well, but his teammates must play even better. The Komets have lost seven of 12 games.

“We have our goalie situation and guys are in and out of the lineup,” Lacasse said. “Guys are just stepping up and we’re buying in. We know it’s a playoff race and every point is important.”