Now the CHL Turner Conference playoff clash between the Rapid City Rush and Fort Wayne Komets is a best-of-five series.
The opening two games saw a split between the Komets and Rush at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Ice Arena, with Rapid City winning 6-3 on Friday then the Komets rebounding with a controversial 3-1 decision Saturday.
Now the deadlocked series shifts to the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Thursday. Game 5 is set for Easter Sunday, also in Fort Wayne.
The Rush need a win on the road to force the series back to Rapid City. Game 6 is set for April 10 at the Ice Arena.
“We’ve played well on the road the last half of the year with our lineup,” Rush head coach Joe Ferras said. “We don’t change our game. We go in there and play the same way.”
A scheduling conflict at Memorial Coliseum forced the top-seed Komets to start the series on the road. Head coach Al Sims said his squad needed to keep the fourth-seeded Rush from sweeping the opening two games on home ice.
The Rush and Komets are in the conference semifinals for the second straight year. Last year’s best-of-five series, won by Rapid City, saw the home team victorious in all five games.
Saturday’s win gives the Komets a chance to wrap up the series in Fort Wayne.
“After (Friday) night, this was a must-win for us,” Sims said. “Now the series is in our hands.”
Rapid City blew open Friday’s game in the third period with four unanswered tallies after the Komets grabbed the lead with a pair of goals at the start of the frame.
Fort Wayne evened the series in Saturday’s hard-fought Game 2 when Colin Chaulk broke a 1-all deadlock with 2:06 left in regulation. Rapid City claimed Chaulk batted the puck in with his hands, but referee Zac Blazic ruled in the Komets’ favor.
“It’s a tough loss. You’re going to lose games in the playoffs. It’s just how you respond,” said Rush center Les Reaney.
Leading Rapid City is forward Jesse Schultz with three goals and two assists. Collin Circelli has a goal and two assists and defenseman Dominic D’Amour has two assists.
The Komets’ top line of Chris Auger has a goal and two assists, Colin Chaulk has a pair of goals, including Saturday’s controversial game-winner and former Rush forward Mike Vaskivuo has two assists.
The Komets were without 6-foot-7, 250-pound defenseman Brent Henley, finishing a three-game suspension dating back to Fort Wayne’s final regular-season series with the Dayton Gems. Henley will be back in the line-up for Game 3.
“You can’t say enough about him,” Sims said. “He’s the top plus-minus defenseman in the league. His presence on the ice is huge for us.”
“It doesn’t matter who is in their line-up,” Ferras said. “We’ve got to beat the Fort Wayne Komets.”
Reaney said the series will swing Wednesday night in Fort Wayne.
“Game 3 is going to be the biggest game of the series,” he said.