The Komets didn’t have a lead until it really mattered Tuesday.
Anthony Nellis’ second goal of the night – with only 25 seconds remaining in regulation time – propelled the Komets to a 3-2 victory over the Wichita Thunder in the opening game of their best-of-5 Western Conference semifinal series.
“One of the best games I’ve seen him have as a player,” said Komets coach Ben Boudreau, who had kept Nellis out of the final regular-season meeting between the teams, a Wichita victory.
“It was one of those moments when you realize how much of an impact he has on the game because when you don’t have him, you realize how much you use him and how much you depend on him. For him to come through at the times he did tonight, the momentum goals that he scored, the penalty kills that he had, it was an unbelievable individual effort from him.”
Dylan Ferguson stopped 36 of 38 shots for Fort Wayne, the third seed in the conference.
“He was lights out and that’s the way he was playing down the stretch,” Boudreau said. “And that’s the way he’s going to need to play in order to carry us. So the guy’s a gamer and he was at the top of his game tonight.”
Wichita’s Evan Buitenhuis turned away 29 of 32 for the second-seeded Thunder.
Game 2 is 8 p.m. today in Wichita.
The games there are being played at the Thunder’s practice facility, Wichita Ice Arena, because Disney on Ice is at INTRUST Bank Arena. Not only does Wichita Ice Arena have wider-than-usual Olympic-size ice, the glass is shorter than regulation in some sections, and the Komets got an early delay-of-game penalty for shooting the puck out of play. Wichita had never played a non-exhibition game at Wichita Ice Arena, where an announced crowd of 817 was on hand.
Wichita’s Gordie Green opened the scoring 9:05 into the second period with a one-timer from 20 feet out.
Ferguson recovered quickly, making a kick save on a Stephen Johnson shot from point-blank range, and Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli was thwarted by Buitenhuis at the end of an odd-man rush at 14:00.
Nellis tied it at 17:30, after Marco Roy skated out from behind the Wichita net and fed him a backhand pass. And Nellis almost scored again on his next shift, but he was foiled by Buitenhuis at the end of a breakaway rush.
The Thunder’s Ryan White made it 2-1 at 7:15 of the third period, when he put the rebound of a Beau Starrett wraparound attempt past Ferguson, but the Komets’ Randy Gazzola answered by circumventing the defense and getting behind Buitenhuis despite Wichita’s protests their goalie had been interfered with on the play at 10:22.
Nellis made it 3-2 at 19:35, splitting the defense and firing a shot from the left circle, after Morgan Adams-Moisan and Roy had established the offensive zone.
Notes: Boudreau finished third in ECHL Coach of the Year voting, picked by coaches, broadcasters, media-relations directors and media members. Wichita’s Bruce Ramsay, a former Fort Wayne player/assistant coach, won it. Grenville’s Andrew Lord was the runner-up. Ramsay also won General Manager of the Year, which was voted on by coaches.
Western Conference Semifinals
Komets vs. Wichita
Komets lead 1-0
Game 1: Komets win, 3-2
Game 2: 8 p.m. Wednesday, at Wichita, Kansas
Game 3: 8 p.m. Friday, at Memorial Coliseum
Game 4: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at Memorial Coliseum*
Game 5: 7:30 p.m. Monday, at Memorial Coliseum*