TOLEDO, Ohio – Love him or not, Komets coach Gary Graham has some guts when it comes to coaching decisions.
Heading into tonight’s must-win Game 5 of the Central Division semifinals, he opted to scratch his lone all-star, forward Justin Hodgman, the team’s Defenseman of the Year, Ryan Lowney, and physical blue-liner Craig Cescon.
That meant Mason Baptista and two rookie defensemen, Chase Stewart and Cam Knight, were back in the lineup.
The result was 5-3 victory in front of 7,704 fans at the Huntington Center, forcing the best-of-7 Central Division finals back to Memorial Coliseum for a game 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Again, the Walleye, still up 3-2 in the series, will have an opportunity to advance while the Komets will have to win.
But now their power-play unit has some momentum; it was 3 for 6.
The Fort Wayne power play – which hadn’t produced a goal since the series’ opening game, came in to the night 1 for 17 in the series, and didn’t tally a shot during its first man-advantage tonight – finally came through 18:22 into the first period. A Josh Elmes wrist shot got past a crowd from the blue line and Baptista was there to put the rebound in on his second attempt.
It was the first time all series the Komets had a lead, as their 2-1 victory in Game 3 at Memorial Coliseum came in overtime on a Kevin Gibson goal.
Fort Wayne’s goaltender, Zach Fucale, stopped two Dylan Sadowy shots from point-blank range to ensure the Komets had a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Seconds after Fucale came up with arguably the best save of the Komets’ season, sliding to his right to glove a Shane Berschbach shot, a play that held up under video review, the Komets took a 2-0 lead early in the second period when Anthony Nellis put a 30-foot shot past goalie Pat Nagle. The most amazing part of Fucale’s save: He dropped his stick and made it with his blocker hand.
Toledo didn’t let down, though, and Zach Gallant’s snap shot from the bottom of the left circle cut its deficit to one, though Fort Wayne’s Jamie Schaafsma hit the post at the other end at 10:56.
But Fort Wayne showed its resiliency again at 12:52 when Brady Shaw snapped a shot from the top of the right circle that went low on Nagle, who was screened by Anthony Petruzzelli for another Komets power-play goal.
Nagle kept his team in it by stopping a Marco Roy breakaway at 17:42 and Toledo’s Matt Register repaid him by scoring during a 5-on-3 power play with a shot from the top of the left circle, cutting the Fort Wayne lead to one goal. Register became the ECHL’s all-time leader in playoff games played with 105.
The Komets’ resurgent power play came through again 6:31 into the third period, during a 5-on-3 advantage, when J.C. Campagna netted his first goal of the playoffs. He was second in the ECHL during the regular season with 35 goals.
Toledo's Kevin Tansey answered with a 35-foot shot at 13:20, but Anthony Petruzzelli cemented it with an empty-net goal for the Komets.
Fucale had 32 saves. Nagle had 20.
Notes: The referees were Stephen Reneau and Jacob Rekucki. … Toledo made its first lineup change of the series, inserting Trevor Hamilton for Ben Danford.