UTICA – The Utica Comets seized their opportunities against the Springfield Thunderbirds on Friday.
That helped the Comets get past one of the Eastern Conference's top teams.
With assistance from four consecutive goals, the Comets rallied for a 5-2 American Hockey League victory over the Thunderbirds on Friday in a physical first meeting of the season between the Eastern teams.
The game was testy throughout between the Comets (11-13-1-1, 24 points, fourth place in the North Division) and Thunderbirds (12-7-1-2, 27 points) – one of the top teams in the Atlantic — including nearly getting into a fracas at center ice after the final horn. Ian McCoshen was given a game misconduct after the game for physical abuse of officials.
“It was to our advantage today,” said Jonathan Dahlen, whose two goals helped Utica come back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits. “We didn’t fall into anything and starting play stupid. … We just kind of took what they gave us and stood up in a good way.”
A 2-for-8 effort on the power-play – both tallies came with 5-on-3 advantages — helped push the Comets to their third consecutive win at home after a tough start to the season. The Comets are 5-7-0-0 at home this season.
“It was great for our power play to score the timely goals they did,” said Comets coach Trent Cull, whose team bounced back after a 5-2 loss to Rochester on Wednesday. “The other team is a pretty intense team, but I don’t think they didn’t help themselves, either. They kind of did some of the work for us. That doesn’t take away from what we did.”
Thatcher Demko made 23 saves and became the first Comets goaltender to earn 50 career wins. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the third-year goaltender.
Tanner Kero (goal, assist) and Jesse Graham (first goal of the season, assist) each added multi-point efforts for the Comets, who were without top offensive player Reid Boucher due to a healthy scratch. Cull said the decision to scratch Boucher was an "internal matter." Carter Bancks also scored his first goal of the season.
“I think he’s been playing pretty well for us in some of these games where we haven’t won,” Cull said.
The two top-ranked power-play teams traded goals in a first period that gave both teams good opportunities.
After Springfield’s Jayce Hawryluk scored 4:16 into the game on the team’s first shot, the Comets got an extended power-play in the final five minutes after Hawryluk got four minutes for interference and roughing – he punched Lukas Jasek after the whistle — and Harry Zolnierczyk also went off for interference.
With seconds remaining on the 5-on-3 advantage, Dahlen was initially stopped from in tight by Samuel Montembeault, but put back his rebound for his fifth goal of the season with 1:31 remaining. Graham and Evan McEneny assisted on the goal that came about 30 seconds after the team called a timeout.
It was the seventh time in eight games the Comets scored on the man-advantage.
Springfield regained the lead on Sebastian Repo’s rebound goal after Demko stopped Hawryluk’s breakaway attempt near the middle point of the period.
The Comets took control soon after, however. With the teams playing 4-on-4 and a delayed penalty upcoming, an unchecked Dahlen got a cross-ice feed from Brendan Gaunce and scored his second of the game from the right circle with 4:59 remaining.
“I saw we had the penalty coming up,” Dahlen said. “He made a nice play to me and got some time and space and just walked in and snapped it. Luckily, it went in.”
After the goal, Paul Thompson was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty that started a string of extended power play opportunities for the Comets. Of the 20 minutes of penalties handed out in the final five minutes, Springfield had 15.
Graham put the Comets ahead for the first time seconds into a 5-on-3 advantage – Thompson, Ryan Horvat and Ian Moshen were each in the box – when his blast from the left point found its way through for his first of the season with 1:05 left.
Utica extended the lead with goals 4:56 apart in the third period. Bancks tapped in a loose puck in the crease less than two minutes in and Kero scored from in close after a nice centering feed from Darren Archibald with 14 minutes to play. Jaime Sifers kept the play alive by keeping the puck into the zone.
“I was really happy with our third period,” Cull said. “It was a crucial first 10 minutes. I thought we played really well in those 10 minutes.”
Notes: Vancouver Canucks adviser Doug Jarvis was in attendance Friday along with General Manager Ryan Johnson. … There was a moment of silence before the game for the Pearl Harbor anniversary.
Comets 5, Thunderbirds 2
Springfield;1;1;0 - 2
Utica;1;2;2 - 5
1st Period-1, Springfield, Hawryluk 6 (Borgstrom, MacDonald), 4:16 (PP). 2, Utica, Dahlen 5 (Graham, McEneny), 18:29 (PP). Penalties-Sautner Uti (high-sticking), 3:21; MacEwen Uti (hooking), 10:28; Hawryluk Spr (interference, roughing), 14:38; Zolnierczyk Spr (interference), 17:58.
2nd Period-3, Springfield, Repo 2 (Hawryluk), 10:09. 4, Utica, Dahlen 6 (Gaunce), 15:01. 5, Utica, Graham 1 (Kero), 18:55 (PP). Penalties-Horvat Spr (interference), 14:21; Woods Uti (roughing), 14:21; Thompson Spr (double minor - high-sticking), 15:01; McCoshen Spr (boarding), 15:47; Horvat Spr (roughing, fighting), 18:51; McEneny Uti (fighting), 18:51.
3rd Period-6, Utica, Gadjovich 2 (Blujus, Woods), 1:04. 7, Utica, Kero 9 (Archibald, Sifers), 6:00. Penalties-Gaunce Uti (interference), 3:02; Farnham Spr (boarding), 6:35; Gadjovich Uti (delay of game), 11:44.
Shots on Goal-Springfield 7-10-8-25. Utica 10-12-8-30.
Power Play Opportunities-Springfield 1 / 4; Utica 2 / 8.
Goalies-Springfield, Montembeault 9-2-1 (30 shots-25 saves). Utica, Demko 2-3-0 (25 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Chris Brown (86), Brandon Schrader (46).
Linesmen-Jason Brown (44), Adam Wood (23).