MOLINE, Ill. — After every game, Komets goaltender Pat Nagle sits in his stall, and there's no way to tell from his expression if his team won or lost. He's always calm and within himself, and he doesn't get too high or too low, almost as if he's separating himself from the celebration or the anger of defeat.
Wednesday night, Nagle cracked a grin or two, and he sure earned them. Kyle Thomas may have won the game for the Komets 22 seconds into overtime with a 40-foot slap shot, but Nagle saved their backsides all night. Without him, they never would have gotten out of the first period alive, and now they lead the ECHL playoff series 3-0 heading into Game 4 on Friday night.
"They threw everything they had at us," Nagle said after making 33 saves. "I thought we did a good job of weathering the storm."
Well, he sure did because the Mallards were a different team after getting only 31 shots combined against him during the first two games. Quad City's players were going to the net harder, and if Nagle got in the way, he might have gotten run over because they weren't stopping. This wasn't the first two games where the Mallards never got close because a couple of times they were almost too close. After getting virtually no good shots during the first two games, they kept getting great chances on Wednesday night.
"Obviously, Pat kept us in the first," Komets coach Gary Graham said. "To be tied 1-1 after the first was a miracle."
Nagle gave up three goals on the night, all off loose pucks that seemed to bounce directly to the sticks of the Mallards' best players who were within 10 feet of the goal. There was nothing he could do about them other than to quickly forget them and refocus.
"They took advantage of some good opportunities," he said. "When you have a good team, you're going to have some forwards in the right spots sometimes, but I was really happy with our guys ticking together tonight."
That was because he gave them the opportunity to regroup several times. Nagle seemed relaxed and ready for just about anything all game, and his teammates gained confidence because of that. The Komets were not as sharp early and got a little better in the second period, but they were never as good as the first two games. Too many turnovers kept Quad City's offense going, and the Mallards were firing from everywhere. He often froze the pucks for a faceoff and a new line change until some things started to work.
The Komets got a break late in the second period to take a 3-2 lead. From the side of the Quad City net Shawn Szydlowski smacked the puck off the pads of goaltender C.J. Motte and it popped into the air in front of the crease where Thomas was crashing. The puck bounced off his chest and then off the stick of Mallards defenseman Guilaume Gelinas and into the net. Referee Kenny Anderson had a perfect view of the play from behind the goal and immediately signaled a good goal. Luckily for the Komets, the puck never hit Thomas's stick which he was holding high.
The Mallards scored with 7:16 left in regulation to force overtime, but Quad City's Grant Arnold had his helmet knocked off during the final seconds. Instead of leaving the ice immediately as required by the rules, Arnold blocked a shot and earned a minor penalty with eight seconds left. That set up Thomas's blast 22 seconds into overtime. It was Fort Wayne's only power play of the night.
After the game, the Komets all admitted they weren't very good, but they were good enough. Or rather, they knew their goaltender was good enough to keep giving them chances. Now they have the chance to close out the series Friday night.
This column is the commentary of the writer and does not reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Blake Sebring at firstname.lastname@example.org.