TOLEDO, Ohio – For the second time in two years, the Fort Wayne Komets' playoff hopes were ruined in Toledo.
Thanks to goaltender Jeff Lerg and his defense, the Komets could never get their offense going and lost 5-0 in Game 5 to drop their ECHL playoff series to the Walleye 4-1. Spring officially starts in Fort Wayne today, with 147 days until training camp for the 2017-18 season which will open the weekend of Oct. 13.
The Komets allowed the Walleye to turn into sharks, always moving, always probing for a hole in the Fort Wayne defense. They found them against the Komets' penalty kill and attacked, scoring six power-play goals in 21 attempts. They also scored seven goals from the high slot, which should have been the area the Komets protected the most.
Toledo is simply faster, more consistent with its effort and strategy and much more disciplined defensively and with taking penalties. The Walleye built a 2-0 lead on first-period power plays with penalties to Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma for tripping and to forward Mike Embach for goaltender interference, though Lerg embellished the result.
To make it worse, the Komets scored on the play, but the goal was waved off.
“Even when it was 2-0 and we scored the goal that should have been a goal, I thought that was big,” Komets coach Gary Graham said. “I did not like that call whatsoever. You have to get traffic in front of Lerg, and Mike is doing his job and he's three feet outside the paint. Lerg is literally running out to challenge shots and we have a right to some ice there. Nobody is expecting a goalie to be that unorthodox and out that far. And he's flipping and flopping and it should have been a goal.”
The Komets could never their forecheck started and with no one other than Travis Ewanyk able to win a faceoff, the Fort Wayne offense never threatened Lerg.
“If we could have scored one goal,” Graham said. “We weren't at our best tonight, and what we needed was to get a jump going. If we could have just gotten one, it might have given us the extra spark we needed to kind of get some momentum going and we just couldn't get it.”
Power-play goals are always the difference when the Komets play the Walleye, and Fort Wayne was successful on only one of 14 attempts during the series. The teams were even 8-8 when playing 5-on-5, but the Komets couldn't make up the difference on special teams.
“Offensively, we were pretty stale,” Graham said. “We had some looks, but we didn't do enough offensively tonight especially when we were down. They were very tight defensively. I thought that was the most complete game of the series that Toledo played, and we had some holes.
“Our pace against a fast team, we were stuck in mud tonight and that's really what a big part of the game was.”
Early on, the game held the tension of a Game 7, with plenty of icings as both teams fought nerves. The Komets couldn't survive the Toledo blitz during the first 10 minutes and feel behind 1-0 on a Simon Denis power-play goal after Schaafsma's penalty for tripping A.J. Jenks.
Play leveled off after that, but Embach's goaltender interference penalty gave the Walleye another big power-play chance that Tylor Spink buried to make it 2-0. The Komets sat back on their penalty kill and allowed the Walleye to work the puck around until they found a hole in the Fort Wayne defense.
Jenks clinched the game with a second-period goal from the high slot.
The Komets will celebrate their season at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Memorial Coliseum with their annual fan party and jersey auction. Season-ticket holders will be admitted free, with the public charged $5 and children under age 12 admitted free.