CINCINNATI - Because he was the ECHL's scoring leader during the regular season, Fort Wayne forward Brandon Marino knew he'd get extra attention from whomever the Komets played during the playoffs. It's respect, and nobody loves a challenge more.
What's driving him nuts right now is that the Cincinnati Cyclones aren't doing anything special to stop him, but Marino still hasn't put any points on the board.
``Me personally, I was just the worst player on the ice tonight, hands down, no excuses,'' Marino said after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Cincinnati in Game 2. ``I played like crap all night. I haven't been good since the second game in Reading. It's not that anyone is doing anything special, I'm just not getting it done, plain and simple.''
Marino had two shots on goal and was minus-3 Saturday night, dropping him to minus-5 for the playoffs. He's also not getting much help from linemates Scott Fleming and Chris Auger. Auger has scored one goal and is minus-3 in the playoffs, and Fleming has two assists and is minus-5. One of Fleming's assists came on the game-winning goal in Game 1 -- when he was on the ice with Christian Ouellet and Mike Embach.
Like Marino, Fleming and Auger are also ticked off, mostly at themselves. They expect to lead the Komets' offense, to pressure the opposing defense and earn most of the ice time. None of those things is happening.
``We just have to work harder,'' Fleming said. ``We're trying to do too much. We keep saying we'll get the bounces, but it's not about bounces right now, it's about playing better. The team has been winning despite us, and we've got to pick it up. It's just been unacceptable the way we've been playing. We just have to win our battles and can't worry about trying to make the fancy play right now.''
True, the Komets' big line usually gets in trouble when it tries to get too fancy with the puck. They look for the perfect pass or shot instead of taking the obvious one and whipping a blast off the goalie's pad and then driving the net for the rebound. During the first two games of the Cincinnati series, they've made it too easy for the Cyclones to defense them.
``We just lost a lot of battles,'' Auger said. ``Up until this game we've been creating a lot of chances, and we felt we were due for something to bounce our way, but tonight we got out-worked. Against a team like that, they are going to make you pay, and they did. Tonight was completely unacceptable. If we're not scoring goals, we can't be a minus.''
Auger was also minus-3 on Saturday and Fleming was minus-2. Auger had no shots on goal and Fleming two.
As a unit, they've usually been solid defensively, though everyone knows they give the puck up a little too much sometimes trying to make a fancy play. Usually, they hustle back quick enough that opponents can't do too much damage.
When asked what his big line needs to do to get going after Saturday's game, Komets coach Gary Graham shakes his head, obviously not wanting to rip the line that carried his offense throughout the season. He just needs them to produce more and knows this series will likely be determined by their production. After all, Marino scored 13 points in eight games against the Cyclones during the regular season, Auger scored six points in seven games and Fleming four in five.
``The No. 1 thing is they have to simplify their game,'' Graham said. ``There's less time and space in the playoffs, and we're learning that. You have to be willing to hold onto the puck and play a gritty, greasy game. That's just the way it is in the playoffs.
``The guys who have been holding onto the puck, protecting the puck in the offensive zone, those are the guys who are have success in the playoffs now. You have to be willing to drive it in deep into the corners and go to work from there. It's not going to be all the time pretty off the rush. We have to simplify our game in transition off the rush. We have to get everybody committed to getting the puck in deep. We again turned the puck over too many times tonight.''
But controlling the puck and cycling down low until they get a good chance are not what Auger, Fleming and Marino have been doing. Their continuity and chemistry worked with their speed to create chances during the regular season, but it's not creating those same opportunities in the playoffs.
Still, they are always a threat the opponents have to consider and plan against. That also creates more chances for the other forward lines who usually don't have that extra pressure of facing the opponents' top defensive group. Marino, Fleming and Auger
should be due to break out and have a big game.
``You would have thought that would have been tonight,'' Marino said. ``Hopefully the next three days gives us time to regroup and that will be what we need.''
CYCLONES 5, KOMETS 2
ECHL Conference Semifinals
(Series tied 1-1)
Penalties: C-Brett Wysopal (hooking) 2:38; C-Mike Dalhuisen (interference) 11:41.
Scoring: 1. C-Josh Birkholz (Byron Froese) 1:44; 2. C-Josh Shalla (Jonathan Hazen, Josh McFadden) 5:52; 3. FW-Matt Carter (unassisted) 9:00; 4. C-Shalla (Froese) 14:54; 5. C-Zach Budish (Taylor Aronson, Froese) 17:59.
Penalties: FW-Will Lacasse (double roughing) 6:40; C-McFadden (roughing) 6:40; FW-Shawn Szydlowski (tripping) 17:03; FW-Lacasse (roughing) 19:26.
Scoring: 6. FW-Szydlowski (Jordon Southorn, Dean Ouellet) 17:25; 7. C-Megan (unassisted) 19:08
Penalties: C-Wade Megan (roughing) 14:22; FW-Christian Ouellet (slashing) 16:42. C-Budish (goaltender interference) 16:51.
Shots on goal: FW/9-6-12--27; C/5-18-1--33. Goaltenders: FW/Ben Meisner, C/Rob Madore. Power-play opportunities: FW/0 of 4; C/1 of 4. Officials: Referee-Pierre Lambert; Linesmen: Francois Dussureault, Patrick Richardson. Attendance: 1,731.