The Toledo Walleye failed to put away the Fort Wayne Komets in game five of the best-of-seven Central Division Semifinals Saturday, April 20, letting three power-play goals go by, resulting in a 5-3 loss before a capacity crowd of 7,704 at the Huntington Center.
“They had a little more jump than us,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “There is a fine line between winning and losing in the playoffs and they outworked us at times, which is disappointing. Here we are at home with the opportunity to close out a team with an energetic building and large crowd, which we certainly appreciate. But we couldn't get it done for them.”
Despite the defeat, the Walleye take a 3-2 series lead back to Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, IN. Should the Komets prevail again, game seven would take place at the Huntington Center at 7:35 p.m., Wednesday, April 24.
The Komets were successful on the power play, finishing three-for-six with a man advantage. The Walleye were one-for-five on their opportunities. Matt Register, who earned third-star honors with a power-play goal, set an ECHL record for career playoff games played with his 105th career Kelly Cup Playoff game.
Fort Wayne got on the board first with a power-play goal with 1:38 to go in the first period. After a Josh Elmes wrist shot from the point slipped through a mass of bodies in the slot, Mason Baptista had his initial effort in close blocked by Pat Nagle’s right pad before moving to the forehand to lift his own rebound into the top left corner.
A save from Komets goalie Zachary Fucale kept the Walleye from tying the score two minutes into the second period. David Pope’s rinkwide pass set up Shane Bers
chbach at the lower edge of the left circle, only for Fucale to drop his goal stick and grab the wrist shot out of the air with the inside of his blocker.
The Komets increased their lead by two one shift later. Baptista stole the puck from Ryan Obuchowski near the right corner and centered a pass to Anthony Nellis in the high slot for a wrist shot into the top right shelf at the 2:23 mark.
Zach Gallant scored his team-best fourth goal in as many games to cut Toledo’s deficit in half at 10:10. He beat Cody Sol to a loose puck at the left half-boards and placed a hard shot through a tight window over Fucale’s right shoulder.
Brady Shaw added a power-play goal to give the Komets some insurance at 3-1 with 7:08 left in the second, but the Walleye answered on a five on three power play with 1:58 remaining to keep the pressure on.
“There is no quit over there,” Register said. “I think we were a little too excited tonight. We didn’t really settle in and we never really did. We created some momentum when it was desperation time. We wanted to feed off the crowd and close it out here. But at the end of the day, we couldn't get it done. It just wasn't good enough by our hockey team tonight.”
While Dylan Sadowy set up a screen in front of Fucale, Greg Wolfe and Register played catch on the left side of the ice before the latter fired a one-timer from the top of the left circle.
Fort Wayne scored a goal with its own two-man advantage, regaining its two-goal cushion when J.C. Campagna fired a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that went off the left post and in with 13:29 to go in the game.
The Walleye kept fighting as Kevin Tansey pulled away from the defense near the right half-wall and cut into the high slot for an effort that bounced off the right skate of Chase Stewart and past Fucale with 6:40 left. Fort Wayne’s Anthony Petruzzelli eventually used an empty-netter to ice the game with 37.9 seconds on the clock.
Fucale stopped 32-of-35 shots in a winning effort, while Nagle turned aside 20-of-24.
“With as much desperation and urgency they had in their game, we have to be even better. It's tough to knock teams out of the playoff,” Watson said. “It's certainly something we can do.”
Toledo or Fort Wayne will advance to play the winner of the other Central Division Semifinal series between Cincinnati and Kalamazoo. The top-seeded Cyclones lead that series 3-2.