Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Komets defenseman Cody Sol, left, skates the puck out of the defensive zone Saturday while being chased by Toledo's Shane Berschbach at the Huntington Center.
Justin A. Cohn | The Journal Gazette Komets defenseman Dan Milan, left, battles for position with the Toledo Walleye's Alden Hirshfeld in front of Fort Wayne goaltender Pat Nagle at the Huntington Center on Saturday night.
Andy Morrison | The Blade Komets goaltender Pat Nagle guards the net, as Toledo's A.J. Jenks fires a shot at the Huntington Center on Saturday night. Komets defenseman Curtis Leonard, right, looks on in Game 5.
Sunday, May 07, 2017 12:10 am
Questions, answers after K's season ends
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
TOLEDO – No doubt about it, the better team won Saturday and won the series.
Toledo is really strong in every facet of the game and, most impressively, makes so few mistakes. It forces you to play mistake-free hockey and, frankly, the Komets almost never did that this season.
This isn't to say the Komets' season was unsuccessful. I would say it was a good one, just not great because the bar had been set so high by last season and the promises of the offseason.
A 5-0 loss by the Komets left them losing the Central Division finals in five games and having lost 9 of 11 games to Toledo, including the regular season.
Let’s keep that in perspective, though. Fort Wayne had the fourth-best record in the ECHL during the regular season and this was the worst second-round matchup it could have gotten.
“We’ve got a good group of guys here. We fell a little bit short. Toledo is an unbelievable team,” Komets general manager David Franke said. “They almost remind me of the 1990 Peoria Rivermen when they beat us in our first year of owning the team in the old IHL. They’ve got skill, goaltending, grit. They’ve got it all. Hopefully we learned a few things from them in this playoff series. I’m not worried or nervous or anything. They were just better this time that we were. We will just keep trying to get better over the summer.”
There are four things that stick out about this game from the Fort Wayne perspective. A) The Komets were out of gas and I really think that started in the second period of the Game 4 victory at Memorial Coliseum. B) The penalties dogged Fort Wayne from training camp to Saturday. I’ve never covered a team so unable to get out of its own way in that respect. C) Special teams were huge. Toledo scored on 2 of 5 power plays Saturday and Fort Wayne was 0 for 3. In the series, Toledo scored on 6 of 21 power plays and Fort Wayne was 1 for 16. That’s an incredible difference. D) The negated Jamie Schaafsma goal was an incorrect call by the referees but totally changed the game.
By their own admission, the Komets didn’t have their ‘A’ game tonight but they feel that if that goal had counted, thus tying it at 1, it would have given them a spark. Mike Embach collided with Jeff Lerg, sure, but Embach was skating in a straight line before it happened and he’s entitled to some space, too, since it wasn’t inside the crease.
“I did not like that call whatsoever,” coach Gary Graham said. “We’ve got to get traffic in front of Lerg and Mike is doing his job. Lerg is three feet outside the paint. He was literally running out and chasing shots and we’ve got a right to some ice right there. Nobody is expecting a goalie to be unorthodox and in that area right there. He’s flipping and flopping. It should have been a goal, but we’ve got to fight through it.”
Not only did the call take away a goal, it set Toledo up for a power play and a 2-0 lead.
I’ll cover this more in the coming days, but Graham’s contract expires this summer. He has a playoff record of 27-22 and has won 5 of 9 series, which is pretty good. Franke didn’t say Graham will definitely be back, but he said they are talking and it sure sounds like it will happen if Graham wants it to happen.
“We’re talking to him and if we can work it all out, I’m sure that’s what will happen,” Franke said.
What about an NHL affiliation?
“If an affiliation comes around and it’s the right deal, then fine. But I think that we have proved that we can compete really well as an independent,” Franke said.
There are definitely some downsides to being independent, but I feel like everyone – management, coaches, players, fans – was more comfortable with it this way. The Komets still had plenty of guys called up, so it’s not as if players won’t come to Fort Wayne because they won’t get a shot to move up.
The players really felt this team had the makings of a championship team. Everyone is going to be calling for changes, but I’ve learned in my 20 years that after a couple weeks go by, you start to see the positives more than the negatives, and I bet the Komets try to bring a lot of these guys back.
The ones I would be less sure about are the older players, just because some of those guys were the biggest offenders when it came to the things that irked Graham – penalties, inconsistency, inability to shoot the puck whilst wide open.
Toledo will face either Colorado or Toledo in the Western Conference finals. Colorado has a 3-1 lead in that series.
Lerg, who didn’t take over the goaltending until Jake Paterson was injured in Game 7 against Kalamazoo, stopped 24 shots for the shutout and finished the series with a save percentage of .936.
“Our Achilles heel showed up early,” said Komets goalie Pat Nagle, who stopped 23 shots for a series SP of.897, not including the 3-2 loss in Game 3 manned by Garrett Bartus. “(Penalties have) been something that’s haunted us all season. When you spot them two goals in the first period, it’s a little tough to come back in this building. Every one of us has to be better. Their goalie was better all series, their D, their forwards. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but at the end of the day we need to realize we had a good group here and they prevailed, they played well and they took advantage of our mistakes.”