Randy Gazzola whipped a shot from between the circles today that cemented a 3-2 overtime victory for the Toledo Walleye over the Komets, who squandered a two-goal lead in front of a crowd of 6,774 at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio.
The Komets finished the game with only four defensemen, after Chays Ruddy suffered an injury during a fight early in the second period with Mitchell Heard, though Fort Wayne’s Kellen Jones dropped from forward to defense for much of the contest.
“I can’t even describe what these guys are giving,” Komets coach Ben Boudreau said. “I mean, (Zach) Tolkinen looked like he was playing 30 minutes. He couldn’t even get words out of his mouth and he’s been doing this now for 30 games, so it was really difficult.
“If you look back at our opening-night lineup, we’ve got one (defenseman) from that lineup, which is pretty crazy. Everybody’s been finding ways to do what they can to contribute, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
The Komets got another terrific performance from rookie goaltender Liam Hughes, who stopped 28 of 31 shots, though he allowed third-period goals to Brandon Schultz and Brett Boeing.
Toledo’s Max Milosek stopped 19 of 21 shots and got good luck in the third period, when Shawn Boudrias hit the right and left posts on back-to-back shots as Fort Wayne tried to build on a 2-1 lead.
“I thought it was a really good game, a game of inches,” Boudreau said. “I thought we could have put them away when it was (2-1) and we hit both posts there in the same sequence. If you don’t take advantage of those offensive opportunities, you leave a good team around and they seem to claw back, and anything can happen in (3-on-3) overtime. Overall, I thought it was a great game … and we just ran out of steam.”
The defending-champion Komets (17-9-4) remain in third place in the Central Division, four points back of first-place Toledo (20-7-2). The Komets are the only team with a winning record against the Walleye at 3-1-2.
The Komets defeated the Walleye 4-1 on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, led by Hughes’ 26 saves in his professional debut, two Stephen Harper goals and three Zach Pochiro assists.
Early Sunday, however, the Komets lost defenseman Marcus McIvor to the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves, who also called up Toledo goalie Billy Christopoulos, after he’d backed up Milosek. To try and fill the void left by McIvor, the Komets signed defenseman Ryan Devine, who had one goal and four points in seven games this season for the Vermilion County Bobcats of the Single-A Southern Professional Hockey League.
The Komets have now had nine players called up a total of 15 times this season. That includes their initial captain, Matthew Boudens (who’s with Henderson), alternate captains McIvor and Blake Siebenaler (Charlotte), top-line forward Drake Rymsha (Hershey) and No. 1 goalie Samuel Harvey (San Jose).
The Komets had 12 of Sunday’s first 16 shots, including Connor Jones scoring off a rebound 1:50 into the first period and Harper and Tyler Busch getting robbed by Milosek on chances from point-blank range.
Ruddy fought Heard 1:07 into the second period, though Heard got a double-minor penalty for cross-checking to incite it. On the ensuing power play, Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli scored off the rebound of a play that began with Pochiro faking a slapshot and sending a crossing pass to Harper.
Since coming out of retirement, Pochiro has played four games in five nights and totaled one goal and five points.
Fort Wayne scored on 1 of 3 power plays. Toledo was 1 for 2.
"The guys gave it all they had the whole weekend," Fort Wayne's Shawn Szydlowski said. "This was the end of four (games) in five nights, probably a first for a lot of guys, too. It’s frustrating not being able to pull it out, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort."
Notes: Boudreau said Ruddy, who took a big punch in the fight, was held out for precautionary reasons and will be reevaluated Monday. “It was a precaution,” Boudreau said. “When somebody goes down like that, you don’t want to put them back in the lineup right away. He’ll be reevaluated and we hope to see him this week on the ice. … Former Komets goalie Zach Fucale made 21 saves for the Washington Capitals in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, after he’d had action in relief Friday. Including his 21-save shutout over Detroit on Nov. 11, Fucale had a scoreless streak of 138:07 snapped Saturday and that was a new NHL record to start a career. … The Komets are off until 7 p.m. Wednesday, when they face the Kalamazoo Wings at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. … The Komets played without Matthew Barnaby (ankle/head), D.J. King (leg) and Josh Owings (upper body). ... Will Graber served the second game of his four-game suspension for making physical contact with a linesman Friday. … The Walleye held a moment of silence for Teddy Balkind, the 16-year-old Connecticut hockey player who died from an injury sustained during a game Thursday.