The Florida Everblades are an exceptional ECHL team, and the Fort Wayne Komets started showing they can be a pretty good one Thursday night. The Komets aren't there yet and lost 3-1 before 7,398 Memorial Coliseum fans.
Fort Wayne led 1-0 through the first two periods but lost the lead 5:19 into the third period when an Everblades' pass was deflected in off Komets forward Phil Mangan's stick as he was covering his man in front.
Scott Fleming had a chance to take the lead inside the final three minutes, but his shot flipped over the crossbar by about two inches. Then with 1:52 remaining, Komets goaltender Andrey Makarov never saw Olivier Dame-Malka's shot from long range that gave the Everblades the lead. An empty-net goal finished off the Komets.
Fort Wayne had plenty of great scoring chances but couldn't beat Florida netminder Kristers Gudlevskis, the league's leading goaltender with a 1.68 goals against average and .928 save percentage. He was spectacular, and at times, had to be.
"It was entertaining with a lot of scoring chances for both teams,'' Florida coach Gegg Poss said. "Both goaltenders played really well. For our liking, it was really too loose defensively. We were fortunate Gudlevskis played so well in the first period or we could have been down 3-, 4-0.''
The Komets fell to 6-6-3 overall and 2-3-3 at home. For the first time all season, the players looked like they trusted coach Gary Graham's system and it made the game easier for them. They did a better job of moving the puck out of their own zone and creating turnovers in the neutral zone to create scoring chances. They were better, but...
"We just have to be positive,'' Kaleigh Schrock said. "It's like a broken record. We have the lead and we can't find a way to put teams away. Florida is a great team, but we out-chanced them and Marky played great, but we wasted a great effort from him.''
The Everblades have the ECHL's highest-scoring offense led by the league's leading scorer in Matthew Pistilli. The Everblades are 10-2-0 on the road this season and lead the Eastern Conference standings. They have 14 players back from last year's team which gave ECHL champion Reading its toughest playoff test.
All that and the Komets were again skating stride for stride with the lead in the third period. It's the seventh time in nine games the Komets have lost a third-period lead.
"We had our chances, we just didn't bury them,'' Komets alternate captain Brandon Marino said. "Myself, I had four shots from the slot within five feet of the goalie and I missed the net on three of them. We played better but still got the same results and that's frustrating.''
When the Komets killed off a two-man Florida power play in the second period, the building had genuine energy from the crowd for the first time this season. There was plenty to cheer for, everything except a win.
"Against a good team like Florida, you can't expect to win a game 1-0,'' Graham said. "We played a good enough defensive game tonight to win, and it's tough when we don't bury the chances we had.''
The Komets get another chance at the Everblades on Saturday night, but first they have to play at Kalamazoo tonight. The Everblades are idle and will brave the Black Friday shopping while resting up.