The Komets could clinch the Kelly Cup by defeating the South Carolina Stingrays on Friday night at Memorial Coliseum. But here's your warning not to take the Stingrays lightly, even if they trail Fort Wayne 2-1 in the best-of-5 Kelly Cup Finals.
Much like the Komets, the Stingrays’ persona is based on resiliency. In the first round, the Stingrays twice faced must-win situations against the regular-season champions, the Florida Everblades, and won both games – on the road.
After getting shellacked in the opening game of this series, 7-2 on June 25 at North Charleston, South Carolina, the Stingrays controlled play and defeated the Komets 4-2 in Game 2 on Sunday.
“We definitely can’t take them lightly,” Fort Wayne’s Matthew Boudens said. “With the Kelly Cup being in the building, that’s a little extra motivation just to come and play 60 minutes. There’s going to be up-and-downs throughout the game, but it’s about sticking to our game plan and I think our commitment to that is why we’ve been successful.”
Fort Wayne's Dylan Ferguson has stopped 96 of 106 shots (90.6%) in the series. South Carolina’s Hunter Shepard has stopped 60 of 75 (80%), yet he’s still expected to be in net for Game 4.
Brandon Hawkins leads Fort Wayne in goals (four) and points (seven) in the series. Shawn Szydlowski has two goals and six points, as he chases his first championship in eight seasons with Fort Wayne.
“We obviously wanted to set ourselves up to win in four games and we did that (with a 6-4 victory Wednesday), so it’s going to make for a special weekend. But we’re not looking too far ahead, having said that,” stated Szydlowski whose team gave up the first goal Wednesday but improved to 5-4 in the postseason, 16-17-3 overall, in games it's trailed 1-0.
The Komets are 21-3-2 when scoring first, including 3-0 in the postseason.
“I would say the feeling in the locker room is confident,” Szydlowski said. “You know, we’ve been resilient all year. … Giving up the first goal as many games as we have this season, and coming back to win, it just shows how much of a character-type team we have and how much confidence we have in each other. We play for each other and it’s a really special team in that locker room.”
South Carolina, trying to become the first team to win four Kelly Cups, has been paced in the series by Cole Ully's one goal and four points. Dan DeSalvo and Caleb Herbert each have three goals in the series.
And the Stingrays have been helped by a disparity in penalties: They've scored on 5 of 20 power plays in the series and Fort Wayne is 3 of 10. The Komets have had fewer power plays than their opponent in 11 of 12 playoff games.