Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette Komets defense Cody Sol and goalie Michael Houser block a shot taken by Cincinnati forward Rob De Fulviis in the first period at Memorial Coliseum on Sunday.
Sunday, April 15, 2018 8:50 pm
Houser excels as K's take 2-0 series lead
JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette
Komets goaltender Michael Houser came into the series feeling he knew the Cincinnati Cyclones’ shooters. He’d played alongside some of them last season. And he learned the others through nine regular-season meetings between the teams.
Houser demonstrated that knowledge, and his goaltending skill, with a 33-save performance as the Komets defeated the Cyclones 3-1 today at Memorial Coliseum.
The Komets have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Central Division semifinals that will continue with Games 3 and 4 at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati on Thursday and Saturday.
The Komets had won the opening game of the series Saturday in double overtime when captain Jamie Schaafsma put a rebound past goalie Joan Johansson, who had stopped 68 shots in the seventh overtime playoff game between the teams over 15 playoff meetings in five years.
The Komets are so decimated by injuries they had to play with 17 players, one short of a full lineup.
The missing included Justin Hodgman, who suffered a head injury in the second period of Game 1 from a Dominic Zombo hit. Zombo, who got a match penalty for the infraction, was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for the hit by the ECHL. The Komets were also without injured players Curtis Leonard, Marco Roy, Ryan Culkin and Artur Tyanulin, while Trevor Cheek and Zac Larraza remained with Tucson of the higher-level American Hockey League.
All three penalties called in the scoreless first period were against the Komets, including one on Daniel Maggio for tripping Shawn O’Donnell, who drew the ire of the fans for diving to the ice to embellish the call successfully from referees Chris Pontes and Liam Sewell. Houser stopped all 11 shots he faced in the period, including a Brandon McNally shot from point-blank range.
Houser’s stop of McNally on a breakaway 6:43 into the second period was even bigger because it came seconds after Fort Wayne scored the game’s first goal – a Cody Sol slap shot from 45 feet out during a 5-on-3 power play. The two-man advantage had been set up by Cincinnati’s Arvin Atwal yanking the stick from the hands of Fort Wayne’s Garrett Thompson, and and then Justin Vaive driving Thompson hard into the boards to incite a melee in the corner, after the Komets were already on a 5-on-4 power play.
Several significant plays were made by Houser’s teammates, including defenseman Bobby Shea stripping Vaive of the puck as he was about to unleash a shot from eight feet out at 15:10.
The Komets peppered the Cyclones’ net with shots throughout the first half of the third period but Johansson was impenetrable, including a stop of a Gabriel Desjardins redirection from 15 feet out. Cincinnati then put on the pressure and Daniel Muzito-Bagenda’s backhand at 12:52 made for a particularly difficult stop for Houser.
The Komets took a 2-0 lead at 17:31 when Thompson’s cross-ice pass was smacked by Mason Baptista as it caromed off Johansson and bounced into the net.
A power-play goal by Vaive at 19:23 was answered by an empty-net goal from Thompson.
Notes: Komets general manager David Franke said Hodgman is in concussion protocol and couldn’t predict when he might return. … Culkin and Tyanulin, who was Fort Wayne’s lone all-star, are possible to return for Game 3. … Joe Ernst, the ECHL’s vice president of hockey operations, was at the Coliseum for both games and made the determination in Zombo’s suspension. It’s been an eventful late season for Zombo, who was taken off the Coliseum ice on a stretcher March 11 when he was struck in the neck by the puck and who ended the season of Wheeling’s Cody Wydo with a hit March 24. … Toledo took a 2-0 lead over Indy with a 4-3 victory, and that series now shifts to Indianapolis.