The loudest cheers of the season didn't come during the first-period onslaught, when the line of Anthony Nellis, Alan Lyszczarczyk and Shawn Szydlowski combined for three goals and six assists as Fort Wayne built a three-goal lead.
Nope, the most deafening noise came as the Komets’ penalty kill fought to close the game Monday night, limiting the Allen Americans to only one shot over the final 1 minute, 41 seconds, and Fort Wayne held on for a 4-3 victory in front of a season-high 3,919 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets now have a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Western Conference Finals, over the top-seeded team, and could advance to the Kelly Cup Finals against the South Carolina Stingrays with a victory 7:30 p.m. today at the Coliseum.
“For us, we don't have time to enjoy this win. Already, our mentality has got to shift right away to tomorrow,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “We’ve got to find out who’s healthy and who’s ready to go. And we’ve got to be aggressive.”
The Komets have played 14 games in a span of 25 days, encompassing five cities and four states, with only four at the Coliseum. Allen had the benefit of more rest, but it dropped to 5-5-1 in its last 10 road games.
“We have to find a way to close this thing out tomorrow because rest, for us, is absolutely paramount now,” said Boudreau, noting that in the first round, the Komets won Game 3, lost Game 4, then needed overtime to win Game 5, all at the Coliseum, against the Wichita Thunder.
“We have two chances at home (to advance), but we’d rather get it done tomorrow night for sure.”
Despite their grueling schedule, the Komets looked plenty energetic during the late penalty kill.
“That was huge. Our penalty kill has been good all year,” said Nellis, who finished with two goals and four points. “Whoever is on the ice is committed to doing the right play. One goal in mind is to kill the penalties. Another goal is to sacrifice, be willing to block shots and be willing to dump the puck 200 feet and skate it hard. This penalty kill is unreal. It’s fun to be on.”
Allen’s power play was 1 for 4 Monday and is 2 for 17 in the series. Fort Wayne scored on its only opportunity, getting a Justin Vaive redirection of a Stephen Harper shot to tie it 4:24 into the first period, after Les Lancaster had given Allen a 1-0 lead. Fort Wayne’s power play has scored on back-to-back opportunities, including a Brandon Hawkins goal in the third period of Saturday’s 5-4 overtime victory, and is 2 for 11 in the series.
Nellis gave Fort Wayne a 2-1 lead at 12:26 with a 25-foot shot, after Lyszczarczyk spun and sent a centering pass, and Nellis put in the rebound of a Lyszczarczyk shot for a 3-1 lead at 14:10.
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, thanks to a Szydlowski crossing pass, for a 4-1 lead at 18:19.
“Our line is feeling good,” Nellis said. “I thought we played a good game in Allen on Saturday night. Obviously, I’m not used to playing with Shawn and Laser, so it was sort of an adjustment. They’re guys who can move the puck well and I fit well with those guys, through my speed and seeing the space, taking good shots. Tonight, I think it was just a result of all three guys feeling good today.”
Lyszczarczyk totaled one goal and three points. Szydlowski had two assists, though he missed the net on a third-period breakaway that would have given the Komets some needed breathing room.
“That line came out and you could see that when they got one, they wanted to get two, they wanted to get three, they wanted to get four,” Boudreau said. “It was the momentum that kept carrying them and we played on our toes, rather than on our heels, the first half of that game.”
Allen’s Tyler Sheehy trimmed his teams's deficit to 4-2 at 11:35 of the second period, after intercepting a 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.
Dylan Ferguson stopped 26 of 29 shots for the Komets, seeded third in the conference. Allen’s C.J. Motte stopped 20 of 24 shots, including the last 14 shots he faced.
“(The Americans) played 40 really good minutes of aggressive hockey (to close the game) and there was a lot of good quality scoring chances, but Fergie was there when we needed him,” Boudreau said. “We didn’t press the way we really wanted the last half of the game, but we got away with the result.”
After the final buzzer, Allen’s Spencer Asuchak punched Fort Wayne’s A.J. Jenks in the side of the head, setting off a fracas that saw Ferguson deck Asuchak, who got two roughing penalties.
This is the Komets' third trip to the conference finals since joining the ECHL in 2012, on the heels of a championship in the Central Hockey League. 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.
If the Komets advance to the Kelly Cup Finals this year, it’ll be a 2-3 formatted best-of-5 series that starts at North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday.
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 has won 3 of 4 series. … The referees were Alex Normandin and Andrew Bruggeman. … 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.