Anyone who watched the end of Saturday’s Game 5 of the Central Division semifinals, a 5-3 victory by the Komets over the Toledo Walleye, knows that both teams were still heated and barking at one another as they left the Huntington Center ice.
The team that maintains its discipline best has the best chance of winning Game 6 at Memorial Coliseum – 7:30 p.m. Tuesday – with Fort Wayne trailing 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.
On Saturday, Fort Wayne scored on 3 of 6 power plays and Toledo was 1 for 5. Fort Wayne is averaging 18.2 penalty minutes in the series, and Toledo is averaging 17.2. Both teams have totaled 38 minor penalties.
“For sure, they’re going to look at their discipline side of things,” Komets coach Gary Graham said of the Walleye. “I’m sure they’re not happy; they crossed the line a little bit. But with the two-referee system, you’ve got to find out what that line is because you want to play with some jam, you want to play with some grit, in the playoffs.
“But you’ve also got to make sure (you’re controlled) because you know special teams are a big part of the playoffs and you don’t want to put yourself in a position where after the game, you’re looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Man, discipline cost us this game.’”
Pleased as the Komets are with the victory, they know things could be totally different in Game 6 and they need to repeat the energy they had – without just assuming their early success from Saturday will come again.
“Momentum, you’ve got to start momentum right away when the puck drops,” Graham said. “What happened last game, happened last game. You have to recreate that with the hard work and energy we had that gave us success. It starts again with Game 6, doing the same things we did – getting the pucks in deep, forechecking, staying disciplined and sticking to the game plan.”
-- There’s no telling yet if the Komets will stick with the same lineup they had in Game 5. If I were a betting man, I said say Graham leaves Justin Hodgman, Ryan Lowney and Craig Cescon out again. One thing people aren’t thinking about is that the Komets wanted to get more right-handed shots in the lineup to limit the turnovers. Cody Sol, Josh Elmes, Sean Flanagan and Kevin Gibson are left-shooting defensemen and Cam Knight and Chase Stewart are righties. If Lowney and Cescon were in for Knight and Stewart, it would have been entirely lefties.
-- More talk about that amazing Zach Fucale save on Shane Berschbach on Saturday, when Fucale slid to his right, dropped his stick and made a glove save with his blocker hand to protect Fort Wayne’s first lead of the series. “When you watch goalies, they’re such instinctive creatures and they do things on their own because they’re just so athletic,” Graham said. “You see an athletic goalie there doing something that’s obviously completely unorthodox, making a big save in a big moment. It was a 1-nothing game in that situation so it was a huge save and that builds confidence with the group ad it’s palpable on the bench. We had a lot of that – everybody playing the right way, playing for each other.”
-- Former Komets player Leo Thomas was at practice today. When he was hired by the Southern Professional Hockey League’s Macon Mayhem last year, he became the only black coach in North American professional hockey. Macon was 27-24-5 – sixth out of 10 teams – and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
-- For all the buzz about the Komets’ lineup changes in Game 5, remember that the Walleye was without one of its top players, A.J. Jenks. I don’t know if he’ll be back for Game 6.