FORT WAYNE, Ind. – The Toledo Walleye were fewer than 22 seconds away from building a commanding 3-0 lead over the Fort Wayne Komets in the best-of-seven Central Division Semifinals on Wednesday at the Memorial Coliseum.
Instead, Shawn Szydlowski cancelled out Zach Gallant’s second goal in as many games with 21.9 ticks remaining in regulation to force overtime, before Walleye alumnus Kevin Gibson scored with 1:59 to go in the extra frame as the Komets escaped with a 2-1 victory and cut Toledo’s series lead to the same margin. Pat Nagle and Zachary Fucale each recorded 41 saves as the latter earned second-star honors.
Aided by three consecutive power play chances, Fort Wayne outshot the Walleye by a 12-6 count during a goalless opening period. The Walleye responded by peppering Fucale with 18 shots a period later, but the game remained knotted at zero heading into the second intermission.
Gallant, who potted the final goal in Toledo’s 6-0 whitewash in Game 2, broke the deadlock with 10:26 left in the third. After blocking Cody Sol’s poor clearing attempt near the right corner, Greg Wolfe had his centering pass graze the heel of Tyler Spezia’s blade and deflect straight to Gallant in the slot for an effort inside the left post.
Under pressure from a pair of Komets at the right circle, Wolfe nearly added another assist when he centered the puck toward David Pope, who was all alone in the slot when his wrist shot rang off the crossbar with under five minutes left in regulation.
Facing the possibility of a three-game deficit, Fort Wayne called its timeout and pulled Fucale for the extra skater with 1:24 to go in the third. A face-off win in the offensive zone set up J.C. Campagna for a one-timer that was blocked by Nagle, but the 6-on-5 advantage in skaters finally paid dividends when the rebound pinballed in front before Szydlowski buried the puck into an open cage with 21.9 seconds on the clock to set up a sudden-death overtime.
The Walleye withstood a pair of breakaway attempts – one of which was deftly pokechecked aside by Nagle – and killed a Chris Crane holding minor by the 14-minute mark of the extra session. Wolfe nearly turned the tables in Toledo’s favor when his sharp wrister from the right circle hit the inside of the right post with approximately five minutes remaining.
Although Nagle made a pair of brilliant saves in close, Campagna collected the rebound in the right corner and threw the puck toward the right point to Gibson for a wrist shot past a moving screen and over the Toledo netminder’s glove-side shoulder with 1:59 to go, guaranteeing that the series will shift back to the Huntington Center for Game 5 on Saturday at 7:35 p.m.
Fort Wayne finished 0-for-6 on the power play, while Toledo was unable to convert on four opportunities.
The Walleye and Komets return to the Memorial Coliseum to stage Game 4 of the best-of-seven Central Division Semifinals on Friday. Puck drop is set for 8:05 p.m.
1. Fort Wayne – Kevin Gibson (overtime goal)
2. Fort Wayne – Zachary Fucale (W, 41 saves)
3. Toledo – Zach Gallant (goal)