Comets Militia Postgame: Because It’s the Cup!

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After having the last four days off the Utica Comets got back into action last night with the first leg of a back-to-back-to-back this weekend. One thing was certain: travel wouldn’t be an issue, with the Comets playing next door in Syracuse, against the Crunch.

With the Thruway Throwdown on the line they managed to prevail 2-1 in overtime, and just past the jump you can read all about it.

The Background

Have you never heard of the Galaxy Cup? I find that hard to believe. You must be living under some sort of rock! 

In order to help promote a friendly rivalry between the Utica Comets and their neighbours to the West, the Syracuse Crunch have a number of ongoing planned all week. 

Everything from the local radio station in Syracuse (which is also the flagship radio station for the Comets) talking trash about Utica, to the local fans in Utica rallying and busing en mass to Syracuse for the game to fill half the stadium with Comets fans.

As part of this rivalry Galaxy Communications – which owns the KRock radio station that broadcasts both the Crunch and Comets games – and the two teams decided that the winner of the four games this season between the Comets and the Crunch will win the Galaxy Cup! 

As a reminder: the Comets lost the first meeting back in October, in a shootout, for a final score of 2-1 and then won 3-1 at the end of January. With a win in regulation tonight the Comets would win the ultimate trophy in hockey: The Galaxy Cup! So.. that was on the line.

The Syracuse Crunch (18-23-4-5) are the AHL Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning. They’re currently ranked 14th in the AHL East and ranked 8th in puck possession in the league. Given the number of injuries Tampa has had, and the number of solid prospects the Crunch hold, their puck possession keeps wildly fluctuating with every recall.

Both Cal O’Reilly and Peter Andersson returned from injury for the Comets. Eriksson started in net, with his .913 Sv%, and the Vancouver Canucks AGM Lorne Henning has traveled to New York this weekend to watch all three Comets games (with the trade deadline coming up). For Syracuse Dick Panik has returned from the Olympics (but his equipment did not) and thankfully Kristers Gudlevskis has not returned from his stint with Latvia (doing his best to try and defeat Canada single-handedly).

Here’s a period-by-period breakdown of how the game went down:

The Rundown

The first period initially started off strong in the Comets favour. It was high event with many chances being traded back and forth. Jensen and Pelletier put a couple great chances on net but nothing could get past the Crunch tender Cedrick Desjardins. 

Biega received a delay-of-game penalty putting the Comets on their first PK of the night, which Syracuse was not able to capitalize on. Finally with 1:32 left in the period Pierre-Cedric Labrie forced a turnover in the neutral zone allowing him to bring the puck into the Comets end and score. That was the only tally in the opening frame with the Crunch up 1-0 on the scoreboard, and 11-8 in shots on goal.

Just 30 seconds into the second period Lain was sent to the sin bin for tripping. The Comets had to go back to work on their PK, and Eriksson stepped up his game in doing his part to make sure that it remained a one goal game.

The Comets had a ton of great scoring chances as the period progressed, with guys like Grenier, Mullen, Jensen and Pelletier all getting cracks at tying the game. It was finally Jensen – choo choo! – who was able to break through and get one past Desjardins. When all was said and done the Comets had outshot the Crunch 15-8 in the 2nd, managing to send the game into the final frame all tied up at 1.

The third period started off rather quietly until about four minutes in, when the Crunch put a puck through Eriksson’s five hole, but it didn’t cross the line. The referees did not review the play, much to Syracuse’s chagrin, having deemed it was a clear no-goal. Not too much later Luke Witkowski hit the Comets’ post and the goal judge set off the goal light. The referees went to video review and (to no ones surprise) it was deemed to be a no goal. While waiting Eriksson sprayed the glass with his water bottle to give the judge a better view of the net.

While the Comets did have a few good chances from Jensen and O’Reilly it seemed that the Crunch maintained possession for the rest of the game. Despite that the Comets led the shot count in the third 10-7 to make the final count 33-26, and the score 1-1 heading into overtime.

The OT started to quickly look like both teams were just fine with sending the game to a shootout, judging by their passive play. I will note that Jensen showed off his defensive prowess with a solid back check to break up a potential opportunity for Syracuse.

.. but then with just under a minute left in the extra frame, DeFazio passed the puck to O’Reilly, who then completed the give-and-go (of the backdoor variety) in setting up DeFazio for the winner. The Comets won the game, got the two points, and moved that much closer to the Galaxy Cup!

The Conclusion

The final score in this game was 2-1 for the Utica Comets with the shot count well in their favour at 36-26. The goals came from Jensen, (13-4-17 in 42 games) and DeFazio. The assists were credited to O’Reilly (x2), Pelletier and Mullen. Eriksson made 25 of 26 saves, good enough for a quality start and a .962 Sv%. The Comets PP went 1 for 2 while their PK stopped all 3 attempts.

Eriksson had himself another solid game making a number of key saves and keeping the Comets in the game for the win. He continues to develop and adapt to the North American game and shows why he was a highly sought after free agent. Even Brendan Burke, the Comets play by play guy, made a number of comments similar to what we’ve been saying about him for the last few weeks.

The Comets now have 49 points which puts them tied at 3rd in their division, 14th place in the AHL West and 24th in the league. They are still in the hunt for a playoff spot as they’re only 8 points back with 20 games to play. It’ll be tough, but it’s starting to look more and more like a legitimate possibility. 

The Comets play again tomorrow night in Binghamton and then Sunday afternoon in Albany. Unlike last weekend where the Comets were traveling around the continent these are all bus games so the players can sleep in their own beds at night. It sure makes a difference when you have to travel a lot.

Until tomorrow!