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Komets get a game back

April 18, 2019

Kevin Gibson had never before scored a professional playoff goal. His last time scoring in overtime had come in his first college game for Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 2011.

Timing is everything.

Gibson’s shot from 50 feet out at Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday night completed a 2-1 victory for the Komets, who were seconds away from suffering back-to-back shutout losses to the rival Toledo Walleye.

“It’s been a long year for the team with a lot of ups and downs. For us to come back and score with 22 seconds left like that, it shows the character of this team and that we’re not going away,” said Gibson, who had two regular-season goals. “There’s a never-say die attitude with us.”

Fort Wayne goaltender Zach Fucale was terrific for the Komets, stopping 41 shots.

And Shawn Szydlowski was the player to finally solve Toledo goalie Pat Nagle, who also stopped 41 shots, and tie it late in regulation. With Fucale pulled for an extra attacker, the Komets got a J.C. Campagna shot from the blue line that unleashed a mad scrum for shooting opportunities. Brady Shaw prevented a clear and Szydlowski smacked the puck inside the left post to send the crowd of 5,556 into a frenzy.

Szydlowski’s goal snapped a scoreless streak of 121:04 for his team that included a 6-0 loss in Game 2 at Toledo, Ohio.

The Komets had  myriad chances to win it in overtime, including breakaways by Shaw and Anthony Nellis, and a power play, but it took Gibson’s shot at 18:01 to cement the victory.

The Komets trail the best-of-7 Central Division semifinals 2-1 with Game 4 at the Coliseum, 8 p.m. Friday.

“It was a do-or-die game for us. They took advantage of home ice and ... getting one game here is nice, but we’ve still got to win another game here on Friday,” said Gibson, who had played for the Walleye last season.

Toledo’s goal came 9:34 into the third period. A turnover by Cody Sol deep in his own zone : the puck was stolen by Toledo’s Greg Wolfe as a backhand clear went up the wall : set up the Walleye’s Zach Gallant for the tally.

“We just knew we had to get one game and that’s what it’s all about : trying to get some momentum and feel good about ourselves,” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. 

Fort Wayne was 0 for 6 on power plays. Toledo was 0 for 4.

At the start of the game, rookie Kyle Hope tried to get his Komets and the crowd energized on the first shift with a huge hit on A.J. Jenks in the corner, but Hope was penalized for elbowing on the play. Fucale stopped Tyler Spezia from point-blank range on the ensuing power play, and had an even better kick save on Randy Gazzola from 10 feet out and stopped Kevin Tansey on a odd-man rush.

The Komets had three power plays in the first period and failed to generate much offense through them.

The goaltending battle continued in the second period with Nagle foiling an Anthony Petruzzelli backhand shot and Fucale turning away a Ryan Obuchowski wraparound attempt, keeping it scoreless with Fort Wayne having a 17-16 advantage in shots.

The best save of the period, though, came from Komets forward Justin Hodgman, who swatted away a Jenks shot toward an open net with the shaft of his stick, and Fucale followed that with another great save against Matt Register off a rebound.

Early in the third period, Fucale had a glove save on Bryan Moore of Toledo, which then had a 26-21 advantage in shots. Nagle came up with a big save at 7:10 foiling a Schaafsma backhand from 14 feet out as it remained scoreless.

Fort Wayne’s Nellis had a great chance to break the deadlock at 8:20 but Nagle kicked his left leg to stop the low blast.

jcohn@jg.net