CINCINNATI - During the final 10 minutes, every Fort Wayne Komet was anxiously standing at the bench, waiting to see if they could find a spark to pull off another comeback.
Chris Auger was still talking, Kaleigh Schrock was still raring to take on anyone, Jordon Southorn was still battling and Simon Danis-Pepin was still refusing to come off. They were hitting and hacking, diving to block shots or keep the puck in Cincinnati's zone. Showing passion and heart, the Komets never quit until an empty-net goal with 1:15 to go made the score 4-1.
Once again, they got started too late when they needed that energy and desperation earlier.
"It was too little, too late,'' Schrock said. "For whatever reason this team couldn't get our jump in the first period all series. When you are playing a team like Cincinnati, it's a recipe for disaster. We weren't smart enough with the puck in the offensive zone. In the third we did a better job of maintaining pressure and spacing out, but if you continue to do these things you are going to end up like we are right now, on the outside looking in.''
The Cyclones won the series in six games, but they really won the games during the first two periods. In each game, Cincinnati scored first and usually followed that with another goal to build 2-0 leads before the Komets woke up. Once the Komets got going, they always rallied, always played hard and tried to prove the hockey axiom that ``Will beats Skill,'' but each game it was almost like they gave the Cyclones a head start.
"They were sharp tonight and we weren't,'' Komets coach Gary Graham said. "Once we finally got involved there at the end of the second period and got some great chances ... In games like this where you aren't sharp and you dig yourself a 2-0 hole early, you are looking for that one goal to turn the momentum. We just kept having chances that weren't meant to be. They were the better team, the more deserving team and I wish them all the luck against Greenville.''
The Cyclones had a 16-5 shots advantage in the first period, and the Komets' five shots were not much of a threat. Fort Wayne had an early power-play chance with some good scoring opportunities, but again, the Cyclones scored first.
"Tonight they made us pay on everything,'' Auger said. "I wasn't disappointed with the effort in the first. We were skating really hard, but we weren't skating smart. We were all excited to play this game, but we had to find a better way to channel our energy and make smart pays instead of just hard plays.''
And the Cyclones made beautiful plays. Their skill players all played hard as Josh Shalla scored on extra effort, and Wade Megan split defenders Matthew Maione and Brandon Marino with a fancy play to fire the second goal. When Dean Ouellet and Marino got caught with their heads down, Dan Eves scored off a 4-on-2 that became a 4-on-1 when defenseman Will Lacasse missed a check along the boards, and the Komets were whipped.
Cincinnati is good enough that if two opposing guys don't show up, the Cyclones can make it hurt. Sometimes during the series, goaltender Ben Meisner was able to make a save, but Tuesday night they didn't miss.
This series was about how the Cyclones' best players produced, while the Komets' did not. The Fort Wayne big line of Marino, Auger and Scott Fleming finished with four assists in the series and no goals. The Komets also scored only two power-play goals in 19 tries and rarely were even a consistent threat. In fact, they usually had better scoring chances when they were short-handed than when they had the man advantage.
No one on the Fort Wayne side ever dreamed the Cyclones could be this good defensively. They are the ECHL's best offensive team, and they'll win the Kelly Cup because of goaltender Rob Madore and their defense. They held the Komets, who thought they had the deepest forward corps in the league, to three goals or fewer every game.
It may end up that the Komets gave Cincinnati its best challenge on the way to the title, which will be painful considering they never quit but also never got started on time.
ECHL Conference Semifinals
CYCLONES 4, KOMETS 1
(Cincinnati wins series 4-2)
Scoring: 1. C-Josh Shalla (Byron Froese) 4:11; 2. C-Wade Megan (Josh McFadden, Chris Reed) 18:09.
Penalties: C-McFadden (high sticking) :54; FW-Dean Ouellet (roughing) 6:04; C-Mike Dalhuisen (roughing) 6:04; FW-Simon Danis-Pepin (delay of game) 11:05.
Scoring: 3. C-Dan Eves (Jonathon Hazen, Reed) 1:51.
Scoring: 4. FW-Dean Ouellet (Danis-Pepin, Shawn Szydlowski) 13:23; 5. C-Brian Nugent (Evens) 18:45.
Penalties: FW-Dean Ouellet (slashing) 1:21; C-Zach Budish (cross checking) 2:02; C-Hazen (tripping) 3:31; C-McFadden (delay of game) 6:16; FW-Matthew Maione (elbowing major, game misconduct) 7:24.
Shots on goal: FW/5-15-9--29; C/16-6-11--33. Goaltenders: FW/Ben Meisner, C/Rob Madore. Power-play opportunities: FW/0 of 4; C/0 of 3. Officials: Referee-Nic Leduc; Linesmen: Shaun Morgan, Patrick Richardson. Attendance: 1,602.