TOLEDO – Toledo brought its best game Saturday night. The Komets did not. Consequently, Toledo is on to the Western Conference finals and Fort Wayne's 65th season is at an end.
“It was just one of those games where you could get a feel that we were not our best,” Komets coach Gary Graham said after a 5-0 Game 5 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 8,013 at the Huntington Center. “We needed to get a jolt going. We didn't have our legs, didn't have the jump that we had the previous four games. And if we just could have gotten one (goal), it would have given us that extra spark that we needed to get some momentum going. We just couldn't get it.”
The Komets thought they had gotten that spark in the form of a Jamie Schaafsma goal that would have tied it at 1 at 16:06 of the first period. He snapped a shot from the left circle past goaltender Jeff Lerg but referees Sean Fernandez and Stephan Thomson waved it off because Mike Embach had made contact with Lerg as the puck whistled by.
“I did not like that call whatsoever,” 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 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.”
Adding insult to injury, the Embach collision also gave the Walleye a power play, during which Tylor Spink scored from the left circle for a 2-0 lead. Toledo was 2 for 5 on power plays and an impressive 6 for 21 in the series. Fort Wayne was 0 for 3 to finish the series an abysmal 1 for 16.
Lerg, who stopped 24 shots, had a save percentage of .936 in the series.
“Our Achilles' heel showed up early,” said Komets goalie Pat Nagle, who stopped 23 shots for a series save percentage 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.”
Toledo cemented the victory with goals from A.J. Jenks and Tyson Spink, plus Simon Denis' second of the night. Toledo, which has beaten Fort Wayne in 9 of the last 11 meetings, will face Colorado or defending champion Allen in the next round.
“They played a good game tonight and it was hard for us to generate very many quality scoring chances,” Schaafsma said. “You've got to give them credit. … We tried to battle out there but it was hard for us to get something going.”
Graham's contract is up this summer, and the Komets may pursue an NHL affiliation after being the league's only independent team.
“We've got a good group of guys here. We fell a little bit short. Toledo is an unbelievable team,” 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.”