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  • The Colorado Eagles' Shawn St-Amant, left, and the Komets' Ryan Lowney chase the puck Wednesday during Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. (Tony Villalobos-May | Colorado Eagles)

  • Komets goaltender Michael Houser, left, makes a save on the Colorado Eagles' Michael Joly on Wednesday at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado, in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. (Jordan Reyes Imagery | Colorado Eagles)

Thursday, May 24, 2018 1:10 am

K's saddened after Game 7 loss

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

LOVELAND, Colorado – Shawn Szydlowski has been in some downtrodden locker rooms, but none like the one he emerged from late Wednesday night.

The Komet had a Game 7 victory in their clutches, his breakaway goal in the third period having given them a two-goal lead, but it was almost as if someone, somewhere didn't want it to happen.

“Sports aren't fair sometimes,” Szydlowski said.

The defending champion Colorado Eagles, who will leave for the higher-level American Hockey League after this season, pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory to capture the Bruce Taylor Trophy as Western Conference champions and earn a berth in the Kelly Cup finals against the Florida Everblades.

“We were one goal short. And I think we outplayed these guys every single game except Game 4,” Szydlowski said. “That could have been the decision for us. But you look back on it now and it is what it is. But to say you truthfully outplayed the defending champs in six out of seven games, I think we deserved better. I don't know what else to say or what else to be proud of.”

Szydlowski's goal gave the Komets a 3-1 lead 8:02 into the third period, in front of 4,415 fans at the Budweiser Events Center, but the Eagles began their comeback when Matt Garbowsky scored on a one-timer at 12 minutes. But here's the thing about that goal: Fort Wayne defenseman Bobby Shea had lost his helmet, requiring him to leave the defensive zone and give the Eagles the advantage they needed to score.

“What a tough break that is. They've got nothing but Bobby's got to leave the zone and it's 5-on-4 and there's a scramble and we don't know where our net-front D is at and that's why the guy's wide open,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “If you Monday morning quarterback it, with the way our (penalty kill was), was it better to just leave him on the ice and battle it out? Once they scored that second goal, they rode the momentum.”

The Eagles' game-tying goal, by Joey Ratelle at 16:51, came after the Komets were caught on a bad line change.

“Once the game went on, our legs just started wearing down,” Graham said.

Still, the Komets had masterful chances to score in overtime, peppering Joe Cannata with the first six shots of extra time. Then Michael Houser stopped six shots in succession. Houser finished with 26 saves and Cannata with 32.

The game turned when Fort Wayne's Dennis Kravchenko was penalized for bowling into Cannata after he made a save, quizzical since Houser had been similarly interfered with moments before without a call. On the ensuing power play, Ryan Olsen netted the winner.

It was only Colorado's second power-play goal in 29 opportunities. Fort Wayne was 8 for 31 in the series.

“I thought all game we were going to win, but they got some lucky bounces and they capitalized. And then they got that power play and they capitalized again,” Fort Wayne's Gabriel Desjardins said.

Kravchenko was back in the Fort Wayne lineup after serving his suspension for fighting Gabriel Verpaelst during the Game 2 warmups. Rookie all-star Artur Tyanulin sat out in his place. Ryan Culkin also was scratched, after suffering an injury in Game 6, a 3-2 Fort Wayne victory, and he was replaced by rookie Kevin McKernan.

It didn't take long for the Komets to take the lead – it was their first shot of the game – with Cody Sol sending a slapshot from just inside the blue line into the top of the net 2:07 into the first period.

But it didn't last long. Colorado's Drayson Bowman, all alone at the bottom of the right circle, snapped the puck under the arm of Houser to tie it at 1 at 4:50.

The rest of the period was ruled by the goaltending – Houser stopped Michael Joly on a breakaway and Cannata thwarted Garrett Thompson and Trevor Cheek on breakaways – until Fort Wayne captain Jamie Schaafsma polished off a 2-on-1 rush at 19:19 for a 2-1 lead.

The Komets held Colorado without a shot on its first two power plays and had an 18-12 advantage in shots through two periods. In the second period, Sol had the most significant play, kneeling to block a shot that was heading into an open net.

“This was a successful season in a lot of ways,” general manager David Franke said. “We were second in the division, we went to the conference finals and guys had career years. We just weren't good enough that last half of the third period and in overtime. These are great guys and did a heck of a job for us all season long. They are bitterly, bitterly disappointed, as we all are. But we'll take it like men and move on. But this is definitely very, very disappointing to the players, the fans and the organization. We'll keep chugging away after that championship.”

jcohn@jg.net