Randy Gazzola whipped a shot from between the circles Sunday 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.
The Komets finished with only four defensemen, losing Chays Ruddy to injury from 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 strong 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 and two Stephen Harper goals.
Early Sunday, however, the Komets lost defenseman Marcus McIvor to the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves. To try and fill the void, the Komets signed defenseman Ryan Devine from the Vermilion County Bobcats of the Single-A Southern Professional Hockey League.
The Komets had 12 of Sunday's first 16 shots, including Connor Jones scoring off a rebound 1:50 into the first period. Ruddy's fight set up a power play, during which Fort Wayne's Anthony Petruzzelli scored. Fort Wayne was 1 for 3 on 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.”