After four games, it's obvious the defending ECHL champions didn't expect this kind of challenge in the first round of the playoffs. The Reading Royals came in as the king of the hill, but there are so many Komets chopping at them they don't know where to defend first.
Nine Fort Wayne Komets have scored goals to build a 3-1 series lead after Friday's 3-1 win at Memorial Coliseum. Kaleigh Schrock and Christian Ouellet scored their first goals of the playoffs, and Mike Embach scored his second.
``I don't think there's a team in the league that can match our forward depth up front,'' Komets forward Chris Auger said. ``It's not one player or one line. we're getting contributions from everybody. During the playoffs, you need the depth of your players to score.''
During the history of the ECHL, there's never been a first-round upset of a No. 8 seed over a No. 1 during a seven-game series, but the Komets will try to wrap up the series on Sunday. During their 62-year history, they've never pulled off that big of a playoff upset, either.
The Royals are obviously frustrated on the ice and behind the bench. They have to match up their best defensive unit against Auger, Scott Fleming and ECHL scoring leader Brandon Marino, but that means the second line of Aaron Clark, Embach and Shawn Szydlowski has been able to roam and score five goals so far.
Fort Wayne's third line of Ouellet, Sy Nutkevitch, Schrock and Dean Ouellet has three goals in the series. Somebody different seems to step up to score a key goal in every game.
``Usually in the playoffs, the third line is the difference between winning and losing and ours has been great all year,'' Clarke said. ``Anybody is interchangeable on that line.''
Auger, Fleming and Marino have only two. Any team holding them to two goals in four games would expect to be winning. And the Komets have done all of this without scoring a power-play goal. Reading has scored two, meaning the Komets have out-scored the Royals 11-5 in even-strength situations, including two empty-net goals in their Game 2 win.
Komets goaltender Ben Meisner has a 1.25 goals against average and a .959 save percentage. He's the individual star of the series, but the reason the Komets are dominating is their depth. There are seven Fort Wayne forwards who have scored at least 20 goals in a pro season, and very capable forwards Matt Carter, Jason Dale and Kenton Miller waiting for a chance to play.
``Most teams in this league don't have three lines that can keep going like we do,'' Clarke said. ``When we get pucks deep, I don't think anybody in the league can play with us and that's got to be our strength going forward.''
First, they have to try finishing off the Royals who would love to get home for Games 6 and 7 on Tuesday and Wednesday. The ECHL kings aren't dead yet, but right now they aren't sure where to defend before they can go on the offensive.
KOMETS 3, ROYALS 1
(Komets lead series 3-1)
Scoring: 1. FW-Kaleigh Schrock (Jace Coyle) 4:04; 2. R-Stanislav Galiev (Ryan Cruthers) 16:12.
Penalties: R-Nick Bruneteau (unsportsmanlike) 6:18; FW-Schrock (unsportsmanlike) 6:18; FW-Joe Hartman (interference) 9:06; R-Sean Wiles (unsportsmanlike) 15:26; FW-Christian Ouellet (tripping) 15:26; R-Cruthers (holding) 19:59.
Scoring: 3. FW-Christian Ouellet (Sy Nutkevitch, Matthew Miaone) 5:18.
Penalties: R-Cruthers (cross checking) 15:34.
Scoring: 4. FW-Mike Embach (Shawn Szydlowski) 16:57.
Penalties: FW-Will Lacasse (tripping) :27.
Shots on goal: R/16-10-8--34; FW/8-14-8--30. Goaltenders: R/Riley Gill; FW/Ben Meisner. Power-play opportunities: R/1 of 3; FW/0 of 2. Officials: Referee-Andy Thackaberry; Linesmen: Jim Scarpace, Francois Dussureault. Attendance: 5,161.