TOLEDO, Ohio – It’s the little things you sometimes notice in this job. Saturday afternoon, I was at the hotel and I saw Zach Fucale, the Komets’ goaltender, seated on a couch. He was the first player in the lobby, readying to catch the bus well before anyone else, and he was looking at his phone, cufflinks glaring under the lights.
He just had this look of focus that if anyone came within 30 feet they’d be in trouble.
Yeah, I've always been attuned to the goalie psych, so I knew better than to go near him.
I guess it takes that kind of focus to pull off one of the best saves I’ve ever seen (and in the video above) during the Komets’ 5-3 victory over the Toledo Walleye at the Huntington Center on Saturday.
Walleye playmaker Shane Berschbach skated in from the left dasher boards and unleashed a shot that seemed destined to go just inside the left goalpost and tie the game. Fucale, sliding to his right, did the unthinkable by dropping his stick to make a glove save with his blocker hand.
“I’ve done it a couple times, but I got lucky. It was a lucky save. Sometimes it hits you,” said Fucale, who stopped 32 shots for the Komets.
Obviously, this game had plenty of offense and many storylines, but that save was huge. The Komets had their first lead of any game in the series and Berschbach could have tied it. Instead, Anthony Nellis’ goal shortly thereafter put the Komets up 2-0 and they were able to emerge victorious in the back-and-forth game.
Fort Wayne is still in must-win territory down 3-2 in the series, but now it returns to Memorial Coliseum for Tuesday’s Game 6.
“It was a total team effort. It’s hard to pinpoint what it is, but I learned last year in the playoffs that when you’re trying to eliminate a team, it’s real hard to take the sticks out of another team’s hands,” said Brady Shaw, who last season helped the Colorado Eagles to a Kelly Cup championship, but experienced losing a potential clinching game to the Komets at home. “Our guys played desperate tonight, bought into the system and played as a team.”
I asked coach Gary Graham – who you can criticize for some things but is certainly willing to make the gutsy lineup decisions – about opting to sit his all-star, Justin Hodgman, the team’s Defenseman of the Year, Ryan Lowney, and Craig Cescon, in favor of Mason Baptista and rookies Chase Stewart and Cam Knight.
“The lineup changes didn’t have anything to do with the amount of sacrifice that the guys that were in the lineup put in,” Graham said. “That’s the real story, the amount of shot blocks, the heart, the positivity that was on the bench. We were disciplined and it was just a total, complete team win.”
His players agreed.
“We’re confident with anybody in this room,” Shaw said. “Hodgman, Lowney and Cescon are such big pieces of our team, and they’ve done so much for the team. But whoever gets inserted, we’re a team in here no matter who’s sitting out or who’s playing. I’m really proud of the guys tonight.”
Getting their first goals of the series were Nellis, J.C. Campagna and Anthony Petruzzelli, on a night the Komets got traffic in front of the net and protected the puck better than they had previously in the series.
Pat Nagle had 20 saves for Toledo.
But obviously the power play was the biggest thing; the Komets were 3 for 6 and the Walleye 1 for 5.
Coming into the game, the Komets were 1 for 17 on power plays. And they failed to produce a shot on their first man-advantage Saturday. But things changed 18:22 into the first period when a Josh Elmes wrist shot sailed through a crowd and Mason Baptista was there to put the rebound in on his second attempt.
The Komets were finally able to keep control of the puck in the offensive zone on the power play and get some space for their shootings, both huge things.
The biggest thing for the Komets, though, will be maintaining this momentum. We all know that’s not their strength and now they have two days off, including the Easter holiday, to think about Tuesday.