FORT WAYNE – As Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals progressed, the Komets’ play improved. By the end, they had a masterful 3-1 victory over the defending champion Reading Royals in front of 5,161 fans at Memorial Coliseum and are now one game away from advancing to the semifinals.
As long as we continue to get better every game, we know we’re going to be successful, said Komets captain Lincoln Kaleigh Schrock, who had his first goal of the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if we’re up 3-1 in the series, as we are, there’s always a goal. If there’s no goal in sight, you’re going to stay stagnant. We can still make adjustments and get better.
The Komets can close out the series Sunday at the Coliseum. If they don’t, it’s back to Reading, Pa., for Game 6 on Tuesday.
Improving (throughout games) has kind of been the trend of the series. It’s funny, at the start of the year, we were awesome in the first period and would get worse as the game went on. Now we get better as the games go on, Komets right wing Brandon Marino said. We just need to figure out a way to stifle them in the first period and not give them that momentum.
The winner of the series will take on the winner of the series between Cincinnati and Orlando, which Cincinnati leads 3-1.
The fourth win is the toughest one to get, said Komets goaltender Ben Meisner, who stopped 33 of 34 shots. We enjoyed getting the win, but as soon as we walk in this locker room, it’s over. We’ll have a skate (today) and we’ll have to practice hard. But we’ve been playing desperate hockey.
The Royals came out with a lot of intensity, and the puck didn’t leave the Fort Wayne zone during the first two minutes. But Schrock opened the scoring on Fort Wayne’s first shot on goal, at 4:14, after defenseman Jace Coyle intercepted the puck and sent a shot wide of the net. Schrock stopped it in the slot with his skate and flicked in a 20-foot shot.
We feel like our third line is rolling right now and can help this team offensively, Schrock said.
With Christian Ouellet in the penalty box for tripping, forward Stanislav Galiev tied it at 16:12 of the first period for top-seeded Reading with a one-timer from the left circle, at which point the Royals had outshot the Komets 14-6.
In the second period, the Komets tallied seven of the first nine shots, including a goal at 5:18 by Ouellet, who redirected Matthew Maione’s shot from the blue line.
The Komets had a great chance to extend the lead at 8:40 of the third period, but forward Aaron Clarke missed the net at the end of a 2-on-1 rush.
The Komets cemented the victory at 16:57, after Shawn Szydlowski prevented a clearing attempt by the Royals. He set up forward Mike Embach in the slot for a 15-foot shot and a 3-1 lead.
Goalie Riley Gill stopped 27 of 30 shots for the Royals.
I’m not going to lie, we did not have a sharp first period, Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. Our puck possession was nowhere near where it needed to be and we were losing way too many battles.
We were spending too much time in our own end and it was a lot of lost battles because of it. But I thought we got better as the game went on.