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  • Jordan Reyes Imagery | Colorado Eagles The Colorado Eagles' Joey Ratelle and the Komets' Daniel Maggio engage in a fight during warmups before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals at Loveland Colorado, as Fort Wayne goalies Michael Houser and Garrett Bartus, and captain Jamie Schaafsma, top, look on at the Budweiser Events Center. 

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets forward Garrett Thompson and teammate Daniel Maggio battle to get the second goal of the night Sunday, as the Colorado Eagles’ Ryan Harrison, right, and Michael Joly try to assist goalie Joe Cannata.

  • Ashley Potts | Colorado Eagles Komets Mason Baptista and Bobby Shea begin shoving with Gabriel Verpalst of the Colorado Eagles during warm-ups, in what would turn into a melee between almost all of the teams' players during in Loveland, Colorado. 

  • Jordan Reyes Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets defenseman Cody Sol, right, and Michael Joly of the Colorado Eagles talk trash in the midst of the pre-game fracas that broke out between the teams Sunday in Loveland, Colorado, before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

Monday, May 14, 2018 12:50 am

Komets battle, tie series at 1

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

LOVELAND, Colorado – The fans here only got to see the Komets once during the regular season, so they probably wondered if they’d be able to defeat the defending champion Colorado Eagles after a dispiriting overtime loss in the series opener, if they were without their No. 1 goaltender, and if the game was a throwback to the 1980s with hard hits, cheap shots and all kinds of stick-work.

The answers were yes, yes and yes.

In unquestionably the most physical game of the season, one that saw two fights during a pre-game melee, the Komets emerged with a 3-2 victory that tied the best-of-7 Western Conference finals at one game apiece.

Garrett Bartus stopped 19 of 21 shots in his first action since April 8, the next-to-last game of the regular season, and Marco Roy’s first goal of the playoffs proved to be the winner on a night Colorado struggled to keep its emotions in check.

The Komets scored on 2 of 8 power plays, getting goals from Daniel Maggio and Garrett Thompson off rebounds, while the Eagles were 0 for 4 with the man-advantage.

“That was fun man. It was a blast out there,” Bartus said. “We were all battling. It’s the Western Conference finals and it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. It was just a blast, that’s all I can say.”

The impetus for Bartus playing, and the pre-game festivities, was Colorado twice bowling over Houser in Game 1, a 3-2 victory that saw Michael Joly score all three Eagles goals Saturday. Houser was injured in overtime when Ryan Harrison crashed into him, though Houser was able to finish the game.

“It was just making sure we were standing up for ourselves,” said Fort Wayne’s Cody Sol, one of the players involved in the stick-swinging, trash-talking and shoving along center ice, as no officials were there to break it up. “They obviously came after Houser and we didn’t like the way they did it. It’s a locker room full of teammates here. If they go after one of us, then they come after all of us. It just shows the team chemistry and the team morale here.”

Fort Wayne’s Dennis Kravchenko and Maggio fought, respectively, Gabriel Verpaelst and Joey Ratelle. As the ECHL gathered evidence, it determined the combatants in the first fight, Kravchenko and Verpaelst, wouldn’t be allowed to play, though they could be replaced by Kevin McKernan and Teigan Zahn.

Maggio and Ratelle, who both scored during the game, will almost certainly face disciplinary action before Game 3, which will be 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum.

“There were some emotions that maybe got away from some guys, but you’ve got to walk that fine line,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “Both teams are physical. Both teams have swagger. It’s two alpha dogs in the rink and trying to out-will each other and sometimes that stuff’s going to happen.”

Komets general manager David Franke said he expects Houser, who is 8-4 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average in the playoffs, to be ready for Game 3. He also confirmed Houser went to a local hospital Saturday because of dehydration, but Franke said that didn’t factor into his inability to play Sunday.

Bartus had one game of playoff experience with the Komets – he stopped 32 of 35 shots in a 3-2 loss to Toledo last year – but he also had three games of playoff experience in the lower-level Southern Professional Hockey League.

“I was just trying to be confident, get into early and start seeing pucks,” Bartus said. “I was talking a lot and getting into it. I thought we had a great first period and that we came out flying, and that helped me settle in.”

During the regular season, Bartus was 17-6-1 with a .903 SP and a 2.85 GAA and one shutout. Houser, by comparison, was 28-11-0 with a .909 SP, a 2.73 GAA and two shutouts.

“It’s special. For me personally, the guy has done so much for me as a coach,” Graham said, alluding to Bartus’ MVP-caliber performance in 2016-17 and that he’s won around 70 percent of his games following a Fort Wayne loss. “I’m sure in his mind, he wasn’t playing. It’s been Houser’s show. He knew that going into the playoffs. But it’s been a next-man-in mentality and he made some big saves.”

Among Houser’s saves were a point-blank stop of Joly in the first period and one on Drayson Bowman with two seconds left. Colorado’s goalie, Joe Cannata, stopped 27 shots, including a Jamie Schaafsma breakaway.

With the Komets clinging to a 2-0 lead, Colorado’s Matt Register sent Jason Binkley into the boards to cause a turnover and sent the puck to the slot, where Ratelle one-timed it 14:10 into the second period. Roy answered for the Komets with a one-timer at 19:20, after Garrett Thompson sent him a no-look pass from behind the net, making it 3-1.

“For sure, it feels good. I’ve been working hard all the games, trying to play another type of game with all the (injuries) I’ve been dealing with,” Roy said. “I’ve been more proud of my defensive play, but tonight I had a big goal for the team. We got the win. I’m proud of the boys. We worked hard and we’ve got the next three games at home now. It was kind of an old-school game tonight and it’s nice to leave here with the series tied at 1.”

Colorado’s Nicolas Meloche scored 9:17 into the third period, after he was set up by a crossing pass from Harrison, who was crushed by Sol just as he released the puck.

Notes: The referees were Stephen Thompson and Tyler Puddifant. … There was a fan at Game 1 with interesting rooting interests: Jake Pence, who is a successful local high school coach with Resurrection Christian. He won Cups with the Komets in the International Hockey League in 2008 and 2009, and he was a Schaafsma with Flint in 2010, losing to Fort Wayne in the finals.