For more on the Komets, follow Blake Sebring on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blakesebring and at his blog www.tailingthekomets.com.
ECHL Conference Semifinals
Komets at Cincinnati
Faceoff: 7:35 p.m.
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
CINCINNATI -- The last time the Fort Wayne Komets played Cincinnati, they looked like they had no chance to make the playoffs. The Komets got caught standing around in a 5-2 loss April 6 in Memorial Coliseum that left everyone in the building struggling to stay awake.
It's remarkable how both teams are different today as they start the ECHL's Eastern Conference semifinals at 7:35 p.m. in Cincinnati's U.S. Bank Arena. Since that game, the Komets have won seven of eight games, including knocking off top seed and defending champion Reading in the first round of the playoffs.
This series will be a lot tougher for the Komets to win. Since that April 6 game, the Cyclones have gotten goaltender Rob Madore back from the American Hockey League, along with Trevor Lewis and Logan Shaw, and forwards Jonathan Hazen and Josh Shalla have settled in after AHL call-ups.
Byron Froese, Wade Megan and Hazen tore Orlando apart in the first round with 11 goals in six games, and only one of those was on the power play. Madore had a 1.82 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.
Unlike Reading, the Cyclones are quick enough to skate with the Komets, particularly on defense where Brett Wysopal, Mike Dalhuisen and Josh McFadden love to jump into the offensive rush. This entire series may turn on how well the Komets forwards hustle back defensively to pick up the trailers in transition. That's not something they were very consistent with during the regular season.
Unlike their series against the Royals, this time the Komets will have to be the team that tries to grind down the opponent, keeping a physical presence on the forecheck and trying to force turnovers. The Cyclones were the ECHL's highest-scoring team during the regular season, and the best way for the Komets to protect their defense and goaltender Ben Meisner may be to keep possession of the puck in Cincinnati's end.
The Komets were 5-1-2 against Cincinnati during the regular season, including 4-0 at U.S. Bank Arena, but the Cyclones were 3-1 in Fort Wayne where the Komets have now won nine of their last 10 games. Their only loss during that stretch? The 5-2 whipping by the Cyclones on April 6.
If the Komets can't control the puck in the Cincinnati zone, then they must slow the Cyclones down in the neutral zone. They will try to make Cyclones dump the puck into the Fort Wayne zone at the blue line and then chase it down, something the Komets defenseman did an exceptional job of during the Reading series.
But the Cyclones forwards are much more skilled overall than the Royals were up front. They can convert mistakes into quick shots on goal.
Again, the Komets can help themselves by being aggressive at the other end and forcing the Cyclones to take penalties, something the Komets did very well against Cincinnati during the regular season. The Komets limited the Cyclones to only two power-play goals on 29 chances while scoring six on their 31 chances. The Komets also used their speed to score two short-handed goals against the Cyclones.
The Komets scored no power-play goals in 13 chances against Reading, while Cincinnati scored one in 16 chances against Orlando.
While the Komets' big line of Brandon Marino, Chris Auger and Scott Fleming played well against Reading, they didn't put up a ton of points. They performed well all season against the Cyclones, so look for them to have a strong series.
Meisner was 3-1 against the Cyclones with a 2.46 goals against average and .910 save percentage, while Madore was 1-2 with a 3.30 goals against average and .894 save percentage.
Maybe the oddest part of this matchup could be to see whether either team can win on its home ice. The Komets are 6-1 at Cincinnati over the last two seasons, and the Cyclones are 7-1-2 in Fort Wayne. The Cyclones were the ECHL's best road team this season with a 24-9-3 mark.
So who's going to win? With two offensively skilled teams it will be determined by defense. The Cyclones have the firepower, but the Komets have the depth up front and the goaltending with Meisner. Fort Wayne must score some power-play goals.
The Komets will advance, but it's going to take seven games.