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The Journal Gazette

  • Standout Imagery | Colorado Eagles Komets goaltender Garrett Bartus makes a save Sunday during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Sunday night in Loveland, Colo., as teammate Daniel Maggio doles out a hit. Bartus hadn't played since April 8.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 1:00 am

Bartus comes in cold, lifts K's

Idle for month, backup replaces hurt Houser

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Schedule

Who: Komets vs. Colorado

What: Western Conference finals

Series: Tied at 1

Game 1: Colorado 3, Komets 2, OT

Game 2: Komets 3, Colorado 2

Game 3: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum

Game 4: 8 p.m. Friday at Coliseum

Game 5: 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Coliseum

Game 6: 9 p.m. May 22 at Colorado*

Game 7: 9 p.m. May 23 at Colorado*

*If necessary

LOVELAND, Colo. – It already looked as if Garrett Bartus had his work cut out for him Sunday. He hadn't played since April 8. He'd be replacing Michael Houser, who had been stupendous for the Komets throughout most of the playoffs, and be doing it in the hostile, high-altitude environment of the Budweiser Event Center. And he was about to face a Colorado Eagles team that was not only the defending champions of the ECHL but had also showed off its physicality the night before by bowling over Houser twice and injuring him.

Then, things got even wilder when a melee between the Komets and Eagles broke out during warm-ups. Bartus' teammates spent so much time at center ice mouthing off, swinging sticks and even throwing punches, they neglected to give him a full battery of pre-game shots.

“As (the fracas) was winding down, I grabbed a few guys and tried to get some shots,” Bartus said with a chuckle. “I was trying to get the boys back in and get a little warm-up. It was interesting there for a little bit, but I love it.”

Nothing seems to faze Bartus, who stopped 19 shots in the Komets' 3-2 victory, and that's one of the reasons coach Gary Graham appreciates him so much in the midst of the Western Conference finals, which are tied at 1.

“He's done so much for me, personally, as a coach over the last few years,” Graham said, alluding to the way Bartus stepped in for an injured Pat Nagle in 2016-17, going 21-7-0, and that he's won about 75 percent of the games he has started following a Fort Wayne loss.

That was the case after the Komets had squandered a third-period lead and lost 3-2 in overtime in the series opener Saturday, when Houser was injured by a Ryan Harrison hit.

“I'm sure in (Bartus') mind, he wasn't playing. It's been Houser's show and he knew that going into the playoffs,” Graham said. “Just a next-man-in mentality and to play the way he played – he made some big saves – and he had no chance on either of the goals he gave up. But he made some big saves. When he gets in there, the guys, all of us, have all the faith in the world in him. What a big win for him.”

The Komets are hopeful Houser will be available for Game 3, which is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum, but they are comfortable with Bartus because they feel he's not really a backup as much as a second No. 1.

“It's tough to see what happened to Houser,” defenseman Cody Sol said. “But we've got two great goalies. Backup goalie is probably one of the toughest positions in sports to play because you can go through that many games and then come in cold, but (Bartus) came up huge. He's been a gamer since he first came here three years ago. He does this every time. When he's asked to do it, he answers the call.”

During the regular season, Bartus was 17-6-1 with a .903 save percentage, a 2.85 goals-against average and one shutout. Houser was 28-11-0 with a .909 SP, a 2.73 GAA and two shutouts. In the playoffs, Houser is 8-4 with a .918 SP and a 2.40 GAA.

“(Bartus) has always been a rock that I can trust in big-game situations,” Graham said, adding he was the winning goalie in the only regular-season meeting between Fort Wayne and Colorado.

Bartus appreciates that Graham has faith in him.

“It's good to have the confidence of your coach in any situation,” he said. “This was a huge win for us. It was either tie the series up or go down 2-nothing. To have the confidence to put me in, I appreciate it and I just try to answer the bell for him.”

Bartus is also cognizant that his teammates tend to rally in front of him; they held the Eagles to five shots in the first period and six in the second.

“The guys played lights out,” Bartus said. “Everybody was battling. The guys have ice bags and everybody was selling out. There's a lot of heart in this locker room and it's good to see. It's encouraging moving forward.”

jcohn@jg.net