An impressive start set up the Komets for a 3-2 victory Wednesday over the Utah Grizzlies at West Valley City, Utah, in front of an announced crowd of 1,385 at the Maverik Center.
“It was a great response by the team. I thought they played well,” said coach Ben Boudreau, whose team had dropped its previous two games to the Indy Fuel.
The Komets got goals from Stephen Harper, Morgan Adams-Moisan and A.J. Jenks to take a 3-0 lead in the first period.
“I don’t remember the last time we scored three goals in the first period, so it was obviously a great surprise for our confidence,” Boudreau said. “We’ve been talking about how to generate offense and the way we did it I thought was great. Harper was set in front on the first one, which was great. We cycled the puck and it was a buy-in in the first period that resulted in the scoring, which was a great response, especially after the losses in Indy.”
(Video highlights are above.)
The Komets had scored two or fewer goals in the first period of their previous 13 games.
“Anytime you score three goals in the first, you’re pretty happy with your start, especially with the way things had been going of late,” Harper said. “It was a perfect way to start this road trip, with three in the first.”
Robbie Beydoun stopped 33 of 35 shots for the Komets, who improved to 8-1-0 all-time against the Grizzlies in ECHL play, including a four-game sweep in the 2016 playoffs.
Utah’s Parker Gahagen stopped 21 of 24.
With the victory, the Komets (28-16-5, .622 winning percentage) ensured they can finish no lower than third in the Western Conference and will face Wichita or Allen in a best-of-5 first-round series that will almost certainly start with two games on the road.
The Komets still have an outside shot at the top seed in the conference, after Allen (43-23-4, .643) pulled into a tie with Wichita (41-21-8, .643) for first place with a 3-1 victory Wednesday. Wichita has one remaining game against Kansas City. Allen has two against Rapid City.
The Komets played without longtime star Shawn Szydlowski, who for undisclosed reasons didn’t make the trip to Utah from Indianapolis, where the Komets lost 5-2 on Monday. He has four goals and 29 points in 35 games, but was benched for three games in April. In 13 games since then, Szydlowski has two goals and 12 points, though he didn’t have a point in three of his last four appearances.
The Komets finish their 69th regular season with games at Utah (34-25-11), which is locked into fourth place in the conference, 9:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
“They got both their goals on the special teams," Boudreau said. "Five-on-5, we played very well. Not to mention, Utah has been one of the hottest teams in the league, so their speed and their confidence is all flying and we found a way to come out and shut them down 5-vs.-5. As a coaching staff, we are very happy with the way the team jelled tonight and bought into the systems that led to a win.”
Seconds after he was thwarted on a shot from point-blank range, Harper opened the scoring by redirecting a Nick Boka shot 2:40 into the first period. After allowing the first goal in nine straight games, the Komets have scored first in back-to-back contests.
Adams-Moisan made it 2-0 on Fort Wayne’s fifth shot, at 7:56, banging the puck off the goalie and in, after a Randy Gazzola shot had caromed off the boards behind the net.
With Zach Pochiro serving a hooking penalty, Jenks intercepted a shot in his own zone and sped off for a breakaway goal on his team’s eighth shot for a 3-0 lead at 15:37.
A melee broke out 2:55 into the second period, after Utah’s Sasha Mutala bowled over Beydoun. The Grizzlies’ Matt Hoover scored a short-handed goal at the end of a 2-on-2 rush at 5:42. Utah’s Mitch Maxwell scored a power-play goal 8:03 into the third period, after intercepting a Beydoun clearing attempt as Maxwell was right outside the goal crease.
Utah scored on 1 of 5 power plays. Fort Wayne was 0 for 1.
“You want to be riding a high going into the playoffs,” Harper said. “You don’t want to be losing games and getting that mentality into your system. But at the end of the day, we’re kind of an older team and I wouldn’t look too far into that. We know what we’re doing and we’ll be ready come the playoffs.”
Notes: The ECHL unveiled its All-Rookie Team and it did not include the Komets’ Randy Gazzola, whose 26 points are third among rookie defensemen in just 43 games. On the team, chosen by coaches, broadcasters, media-relations directors and media, are: Wichita goalie Evan Weninger, Wichita defenseman Dean Stewart, Greenville defenseman Ben Finkelstein, Orlando forward Joseph Garreffa, Utah forward Matthew Boucher and Wichita forward Jay Dickman. … The Komets also played without Justin Vaive, Matthew Boudens and Marcus McIvor. … The referee was Andrew Wilk. … Indy clinched an Eastern Conference playoff spot with a 5-1 victory over Kansas City, bolstered a smidge by the forfeit victory over Fort Wayne, which didn’t play a May 4 game because of a positive COVID-19 test with an Indy player.