Komets vs. Cyclones: Five things to watch

Cincinnati forward Jesse Schultz. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

The Komets and Cincinnati Cyclones start their best-of-seven ECHL Kelly Cup playoff series with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. The teams just played the regular season’s final game on Sunday in Fort Wayne and almost wound up in a game-ending brawl. Fort Wayne is the No. 2 seed in the Central Division, and Cincinnati is the No. 3 seed.

Here are five things to watch for in the series.

1. Is this a rivalry?

For the six years the Komets have played in the ECHL, Fort Wayne fans have considered the team’s main rival to be the Toledo Walleye. There’s plenty of history across five decades, lots of bad blood and two really good playoff series over the past three seasons. But Cincinnati fans consider Fort Wayne to be its chief rival, and in a way it sort of makes sense. The Cyclones have played the Komets more often than they have the Walleye or Indy, the games are usually pretty good and this will be the third playoff series between the Komets and Cyclones over the past six years.

We’ll find out what the Fort Wayne fans think when we see how many travel to Cincinnati for Games 3-5.

2. Who is Cincinnati’s goalie?

While the Komets are assuredly going to start Michael Houser in goal, they aren’t sure who the Cyclones will start. Anthony Peters was 3-0 against the Komets this season, but he’s playing in the AHL and isn’t expected to come back. The other three options — Hayden Stewart, Jonas Johansson and Jason Kasdorf — all gave up around four goals a game and had less than .900 save percentages against Fort Wayne. The best bet is Kasdorf will start.

3. Repercussions from Sunday?

At the end of Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Cyclones’ Alex Kile may have made a rookie mistake by skating over to bump Houser after the final horn. The last thing Cincinnati needed was to give Houser more motivation. He’s been 13-3-2 over his last 18 games, but he’s also a former Cyclone who is completely comfortable in U.S. Bank Arena. He played 82 games with Cincinnati over three seasons, including 41 last year, and even played 17 playoff games with the Cyclones in 2013, beating the Komets 4-2.

About the only advantage the Cyclones might have is that Cincinnati coach Matt Macdonald knows Houser very well. A lot will depend on which team controls the front of both nets.

4. Be wary of chippy play

Both teams need to be careful with the rough play early tonight. With two referees in the playoffs, they’ll likely be quick to send players to the penalty box and set a strict format for the series. The Komets aren’t sure the Cyclones can score with them five-on-five, so they can’t give them too many power-play chances. The playoffs are about endurance, perseverance and discipline.

Cyclones’ big three

When the Cyclones were successful against the Komets early in the season, the line of Justin Danforth, Jesse Schultz and Shawn O’Donnell was dominant. Danforth, the ECHL’s Rookie of the Year, has been playing in the AHL with Rochester, but the Cyclones are expecting him back for this series. Cincinnati’s top line recently has been Schultz, Danforth and Justin Vaive with Daniel Muzito-Bagenda, Brandon McNally and O’Donnell on the second line. That puts Dominic Zombo and Winston Day Chief a rotating third forward on the third line.

It will also be interesting to see how the Komets’ lines might evolve as more players get healthy throughout the series.

Unlike the regular season, the Komets better make team defense their priority.