Ten shots, four goals, 18 minutes and 19 seconds, that’s about what it took for the Komets to turn this series on its heels.
Despite giving up an early goal to the Allen Americans, the Komets built a commanding three-goal lead tonight before the first period was even over at Memorial Coliseum, propelling Fort Wayne to a 4-3 victory.
The Komets lead the best-of-5 Western Conference Finals 2-1 over the conference’s top seed and can advance to the Kelly Cup Finals with a victory 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Coliseum. Game 5, if necessary, would be at the Coliseum on Wednesday.
The South Carolina Stingrays the Eastern Conference Finals series 3-1 over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, capped by a 2-1 victory tonight. The next series is likely to be best-of-5.
The Komets, seeded third in the Western Conference, have nine playoff championships in their 69-season history. But they haven’t advanced to finals since joining the ECHL in 2012 – fresh off a Central Hockey League title.
They’re in this position largely because of the play Monday of the line of Anthony Nellis, Alan Lyszczarczyk and Shawn Szydlowski, which totaled three goals and six points as Fort Wayne built a 4-1 first-period lead.
Dylan Ferguson stopped 26 shots for the Komets. Allen’s C.J. Motte stopped 20 shots.
Motte had been the backup in Game 2 at Allen, Texas, where Oliver Cooper’s overtime goal cemented a 5-4 Fort Wayne victory and snapped a 10-game Allen winning streak, as Jake Paterson stopped 40 of 45 shots. Motte had stopped 24 of 26 shots in Allen’s 5-2 series-opening victory.
Allen opened the scoring on its first opportunity of the night: The Americans caught the Komets’ defense flatfooted and Scott Conway’s crossing pass set up the ECHL’s Defenseman of the Year, Les Lancaster, to get behind Blake Siebenaler and score off the rebound of his own shot 1:17 into the first period.
The Komets’ power play delivered a tying goal at 4:24, when Justin Vaive redirected a Stephen Harper shot up and over Motte.
It was the second straight power play on which the Komets scored – Brandon Hawkins tied it late Saturday in regulation time with a man-advantage – after the power play had been 0 for 10 in the series and 2 for 26 in the postseason. During the regular season, Fort Wayne’s power play was the league’s best at 25.9% efficiency. Fort Wayne was 1 for 1 on power plays Monday. Allen was 1 for 4 and got only one shot on 1:41 of power-play time to finish the game.
Fort Wayne kept peppering the Allen net with shots and Nellis scored at 12:36 with a 25-foot shot, after Lyszczarczyk spun and sent a centering pass. The combination paid off again at 14:10, when Nellis deposited the rebound of a Lyszczarczyk shot into the net for a 3-1 lead.
On Fort Wayne’s next shot, it’s 10th of the game, Lyszczarczyk buried a slapshot into a wide-open net as he fell to his knees, after a Szydlowski crossing pass, for a 4-1 lead at 18:19.
Allen’s Tyler Sheehy trimmed the deficit to 4-2 at 11:35 of the second period, after intercepting a Brandon Hawkins pass in the Fort Wayne zone, and Lancaster scored on a power play 2:43 into the third period on a 40-foot snap shot.
The Komets had a bevy of opportunities to build on their lead, including a Szydlowski breakaway rush in which he missed the net.
This is the Komets' third trip to the conference finals since joining the ECHL in 2012. They lost a 4-1 best-of-7 series to Allen in 2016, when the Americans stole the first two games at the Coliseum, and the Komets lost in overtime of Game 7 to the Colorado Eagles in 2018. The Americans and Eagles followed those series by winning the Kelly Cup.
Notes: It was Allen coach Steve Martinson’s 64th birthday. He’s won 17 of 25 playoff games against the Komets in the ECHL and United Hockey League, for which he coached Rockford, and won 3 of 4 series. … The referees were Alex Normandin and Andrew Burggeman. … The Komets played without Zach Pochiro, Marco Roy, Morgan Adams-Moisan, Olivier Galipeau and Robbie Beydoun. … Allen’s scratches were Francis Marotte, Philip Beaulieu, Darian Skeoch, Samuel Laberge and Dyson Stevenson clear.