UTICA – The Utica Comets broke out of one funk Friday night.
They needed a shootout to do it against the Hartford Wolf Pack.
Jonathan Dahlen and Michael Carcone each scored in the shootout and Ivan Kulbakov stopped two Hartford shooters to help the Comets earn a thrilling 4-3, come-from-behind home victory at in the first meeting of the season between the American Hockey League Eastern Conference teams.
“Any time you can (rally) is huge,” said rookie forward Jonah Gadjovich, whose first pro goal tied the game at 3 with 1:27 to play. “We found a way to battle back and that’s what good teams do.”
Dahlen and Carcone each scored on nice backhand efforts to help the Comets (6-7-1-0, 13 points) rally from a 3-1 deficit in the third period and snap the AHL's longest home losing streak at five games. The Comets are 2-6-0-0 at home this season.
“With a young group, it is a character-building win,” Comets coach Trent Cull said. “We’re a young, young team and we’re going to have our struggles. … We’re hoping our crowd can grow with us. But, we’re going to have some thin times, you can see it. But, when we find our way back into these games it is really good.”
Both Kulbakov, who had 10 saves in overtime, and Marek Mazanec turned in multiple key stops throughout a thrilling breakneck five-minute extra frame that saw each team with prime scoring opportunities. Kulbakov was especially huge – along with a few others -- on a penalty kill that draw thunderous applause from the home crowd.
It was another standout performance from Kulbakov, who finished with 34 stops to keep the Comets in the game.
“He made big saves when he need to,” Cull said of Kulbakov, who is 5-3-1-0 this season. “He finds a way and he gives us a chance.
The teams needed extra time after the Comets rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the third period. The Comets got goals from young forward Lukas Jasek (third of the season) in front and then another Gadjovich that squeezed past Mazanec.
“I went to the net and the rebound on (Brendan Woods’ shot) was kind of bouncy and it came out. I just got a stick on it and it just trickled in. It was pretty nice,” Gadjovich said.
The win helped put an exclamation point on the team’s Purple Heart Military Night game. Players wore special black camouflage, purple and white jerseys with some auctioned following the game. The Comets – hockey’s first team recognized by the National Military Order of the Purple Heart – also honored medal recipients, veterans and the armed forces from each conflict since World War II before and during the game.
Zack MacEwen also scored and Olli Juolevi added two assists to help the Comets improve to 3-5-1-0 in the last nine games. The team continues to be without several players – Reid Boucher, Darren Archibald, among others – because of injuries or call-ups to Vancouver.
The Comets also lost Vincent Arseneau (hand) in the second period and Cam Darcy in the third period Wednesday. Cull didn’t have updates on either player.
Utica controlled much of the first period with several strong scoring chances, but Mazanec was solid. Kulbakov also made a few timely saves for the Comets to keep the game scoreless.
Utica grabbed the lead first for the fourth consecutive game. On the goal, Juolevi found Jonathan Dahlen, who broke into the zone and sent a nice feed to MacEwen, whose wrist shot got past Mazanec for his sixth of the season.
For the second time in as many games, the opposition rallied with a three-goal middle frame. The Wolf Pack (5-7-1-2) wrestled control away with Tim Gettinger tying the game 2:31 later and then took the lead on back-to-back goals by Ville Maskanen – on a redirect with 6:05 to play and another on a one-timer with 17.5 seconds left for a 3-1 lead.
It stayed that way until the Comets' rallied in the third.
“We had some breakdowns in the second that we still need to work on,” Cull said. “Before the third period, we talked about some of the details that we need to work on. It was gratifying to have some guys find a way.”
Note: Boucher's jersey was one of the jerseys to earn the most money from the post-game auction. It went for $2,000. ... Thatcher Demko – who has recently been practicing with the Comets as he returns from a concussion – is expected to be backup Wednesday in Belleville and return to play next weekend, Vancouver General Manager Jim Benning said on TSN 1040 radio Friday morning. … Wacey Hamilton (concussion) missed his 14th consecutive game. Reid Boucher (ankle) missed his sixth consecutive game. … Canucks Assistant General Manager John Weisbrod and adviser Doug Jarvis were in attendance.
Comets 4, Wolf Pack 3 (SO)
Hartford;0;3;0;0 - 3
Utica;0;1;2;0 - 4
1st Period: No Scoring.Penalties-O'Donnell Hfd (slashing), 7:33; Fontaine Hfd (high-sticking), 8:46; Carcone Uti (slashing), 16:39.
2nd Period: 1, Utica, MacEwen 6 (Dahlen, Juolevi), 7:29. 2, Hartford, Gettinger 5 (Lindqvist, Fogarty), 10:03. 3, Hartford, Meskanen 3 (Hajek), 13:55. 4, Hartford, Meskanen 4 (Holland), 19:42. Penalties-Fogarty Hfd (fighting), 6:53; Arseneau Uti (fighting), 6:53; MacMaster Uti (cross-checking), 11:07.
3rd Period: 5, Utica, Jasek 3 (MacMaster, Sautner), 15:00. 6, Utica, Palmu 1 (Gadjovich, Woods), 18:33. Penalties-Lindgren Hfd (holding), 1:24; Carcone Uti (tripping), 20:00.
OT Period: No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout: Hartford 0 (Gropp NG, Fogarty NG), Utica 2 (Dahlen G, Carcone G).
Shots on Goal-Hartford 6-12-9-10-0-37. Utica 11-8-7-4-1-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Hartford 0 / 3; Utica 0 / 3.
Goalies-Hartford, Mazanec 3-4-2 (30 shots-27 saves). Utica, Kulbakov 5-3-1 (37 shots-34 saves).
Referees-Chris Brown (86), Mike Dietrich (15).
Linesmen-Tyson Baker (88), Neil Frederickson (68).