TOLEDO, Ohio – It’s just one game. But it was a game the Komets needed.
They came into tonight winless in nine this season against their archrival, the Toledo Walleye, and had been outscored 41-18.
The Komets hadn’t beaten the Walleye since Game 5 of a six-game playoff series last year, 315 days ago.
Sparked by Shawn St-Amant’s hat trick, the Komets finally solved the Walleye with a 5-3 victory.
Fort Wayne’s dim hopes of getting second place in the division remain alive; it is seven points back of Toledo with 14 games left in the regular season, though the Walleye has four games in hand. However, a first-round playoff meeting with the teams is probable.
A sellout crowd of 8,312 was on hand at the Huntington Center, where Fort Wayne was pummeled 7-1 on Friday night, prompting Komets coach Ben Boudreau to say: “We showed up expecting to fight a match in the featherweight division and we got the heavyweight title thrown at us. They should be gloating and celebrating because they absolutely embarrassed us. They deserved everything they got and we deserved everything we got.”
The Komets came in with a 0-7-2 record season record against the Walleye and the Komets had led only 16 minutes, 27 seconds of play in those games.
Tonight, it was a different story as the Komets played hard throughout, limited their turnovers and got myriad shot blocks, though penalties did hinder them again at times.
Two things happened early to get the Komets fired up: Goaltender Cole Kehler, who had stopped 7 of 8 shots in relief of Patrick Munson on Friday, gloved a T.J. Hensick shot from point-blank range 24 seconds into the first period; and Drake Rymsha fought Troy Loggins at 4:33.
The Komets opened the scoring when Brady Shaw got to the rebound of a Chaz Reddekopp shot at the right goal post, then slithered the puck off the right leg of Toledo goaltender Filip Larsson and into the net 7:22 into the first period.
A Brett McKenzie steal of the puck in the neutral zone led to a St-Amant goal at the end of a 2-on-1 rush for a 2-0 Fort Wayne lead at 9:43.
Toledo’s Brett Boeing answered at 17:56 by redirecting an Abbott Girduckis shot from the corner so that it knuckled inside the right goalpost.
Kehler came up big early in the third period, thwarting a Gregor MacLeod shot at the end of a 3-on-2 rush. Kehler soon faced another odd-man rush but got help – a shot by Toledo’s Loggins snuck underneath Kehler and Fort Wayne’s Chase Stewart dove into the crease to block Loggins’ attempt to sweep it into the seemingly open net at 5:37.
As is commonplace, penalties caught up with the Komets. They took four of the game’s first six penalties and allowed Toledo’s Josh Kestner to tie it during a 5-on-3 Walleye power play at 9:26. The Komets recovered, though, with Shaw’s pass from the corner setting up St-Amant for a one-timer and a 3-2 lead at 12:13.
On the heels of three straight penalties on the Walleye, the Komets netted a power-play goal when St-Amant caught Larsson sprawled on the ice and scored with a wraparound for a 4-2 lead at 18:17.
Kestner scored again by splitting the defense, taking a pass from Shane Berschbach and snapping a 15-foot shot past Kehler at 8:43 of the third period. Anthony Petruzzelli added an empty-netter for Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne was 1 for 6 on power plays. Toledo was 1 for 5.
The Komets are 7-4-0 so far in their stretch of 14 straight divisional games that continues Wednesday at Memorial Coliseum against the Wheeling Nailers.
Notes: Stephen Baylis and Kyle Haas, who had been scratched Friday, were back in the Fort Wayne lineup. The Komets played without Will Petschenig, Patrick Munson, Adam Henry and Brad Morrison. … The referee was Alex Normandin. … The Komets have three more regular-season games against the Walleye. … Toledo, for the second straight night, wore three different jerseys for DC Comics Nights: Batman in the first period, Aquaman in the second and Superman in the third. … There was a 9-minute delay to the game because superheroes rappelled from the ceiling but Aquaman’s wig got stuck, preventing him from making it to the ice until he cut the locks out of the rope.