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Last updated: Thu. Apr. 17, 2014 - 01:00 am EDT

Komets ready for Reading challenge

Royals will be favored, but Fort Wayne has a shooter's chance

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Game 1

Komets at Reading

Faceoff: 7:05 p.m.

Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM


Guess which two teams had the best records coming down the stretch in the ECHL's Eastern Conference?

The Reading Royals went 16-3-2 over the final weeks of the regular season, and the Fort Wayne Komets went 9-3-1. There are other similarities as well as both teams love to play a run-and-gun offensive style but are better when they try to control the puck in the offensive zone. And both teams won in the other squad's barn this season.

As the defending ECHL champions and the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Royals are the obvious favorites in this best-of-seven quarterfinal series, but the Komets are confident they have a shooter's chance.

``We are trying to get better,'' coach Gary Graham said. ``We're still trying to figure out a more consistent approach with sometimes shooting when we need to shoot the puck and then driving the net and being a greasy team. That's how way you have to play in the playoffs. Overall, we've been defending better as of late, keeping teams down off the shot count, and we have all three lines generating scoring chances right now.''

The Komets feel like they've been building to peak over the last month. They've settled down their forward lines, decided on defensive pairings and gotten better goaltending. The power play has shown signs of effectiveness. With Ben Meisner's 12-1 road record, the Komets will be loose and confident going into tonight's opening game.

One advantage is that the Royals haven't seen Meisner this season.

``The only thing that I know is that they've been there and done that when they won it last year,'' Meisner said. ``They seemed to get off to a little bit of a slow start, but hey seem to have found their groove now. They might have cooled off the last five games or so when we've been heating up so hopefully we can use that to our advantage.''

The Komets are confident enough that they believe they can worry more about their own game than the Royals, though Graham will have a detailed scouting report ready. The players believe if they follow the system and keep the puck in Reading's end of the ice, the score will take care of itself.

``We want to know the tendencies, but at the end of the day we want them to have to adjust to us,'' defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin said.

But the Royals are loaded with talent, are disciplined defensively, hard to play against and opportunistic offensively. They don't make mistakes to beat themselves but are adept at maximizing opportunities off opponent's miscues.

They have excellent players such as Ryan Cruthers, Yannick Tifu, Sean Wiles, T.J. Syner, Josh Brittain, Riley Gill and Brandon Anderson. There's not one star to try and stop but a bunch of very good players who are always dangerous. Going back to his play in Rockford, Tifu never seems to score a ton of goals against the Komets, just all the important game-winning ones.

When they beat the Komets in three games in Fort Wayne this season, the Royals kept the defensive pressure on Fort Wayne and found their own offensive chances here and there. By playing so defensively, they made sure there was no way the Komets could rally once they fell behind.

The Komets never fell behind in the one game played in Reading and won 7-2.

``We know they have a very talented bunch like Tifu, and Gill and Anderson and Syner those type of guys,'' Komets defenseman Jordon Southorn said. ``We're going to keep playing our game. We're a good road team and hopefully we can get it deep on them and force them and create turnovers.''

As usual in the playoffs, this will come down to which teams does the best job defensively and keeps the game simple. That always starts all the way at the other end of the ice in the offensive zone.

``The best thing for us is to be who we are, which is a puck-possession team in the offensive zone, grinding down low and working defensemen,'' Graham said. ``That's where we're at our best.''

Series marginalia

Reading vs. Fort Wayne

Reading Royals

Coach: Larry Courville

Record: 46-22-4

Leading scorers: Ryan Cruthers 16-40-56; Yannck Tifu 19-29-48; Domenic Monardo 27-19-48; Sean Wiles 19-26-45; T.J. Syner 19-25-44.

Leading goaltenders: Brandon Anderson25-10-2, 2.35 GAA, .916 pct.; Riley Gill 19-122, 2.47 GAA, .917 pct.

Power play: 16.5 percent.

Penalty kill: 86.5 percent.

Goals per game: 3.18

Goals against per game: 2.53

Record vs. Fort Wayne: 3-1

Leading scorers: Louie Caporusso 2-2-4; Yannick Tifu 1-3-4; Aaron Gens 2-1-3; Ethan Cox 1-2-3; Ryan Cruthers 0-3-3.

Top goaltenders: Ryley Gill 2-0-0, 0.95 GAA; .969 pct; Brandon Anderson 1-1-0, 4.51 GAA, .845 pct.

Power play: 3 of 15

Fort Wayne Komets

Coach: Gary Graham

Record: 36-24-12

Leading scorers: Brandon Marino 30-58-88; Chris Auger 29-26-55; Scott Fleming 16-33-49; Mike Embach 22-19-41;

Top goaltenders: Ben Meisner 14-6-2, 2.39 GAA, .919 pct; Steven Summerhays 2-0-0, 1.92 GAA, .922 pct.

Power play: 14.0 percent.

Penalty kill: 86.3 percent.

Goals per game: 2.99

Goals against per game: 2.99

Record vs. Reading: 1-2-1.

Leading scorers: Chris Auger 3-2-5; Brandon Marino 2-2-4; Scott Fleming 1-2-3; Jordon Southorn 1-2-3.

Top goaltenders: Not applicable.

Power play: 1 of 13.

The pick: Reading in six games

--Blake Sebring

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