Both the Utica Comets and Cleveland Monsters blew leads in this game, but it was the Monsters that came out on top 4-3 in overtime.
The Utica Comets have been playing a lot of teams lately that are in the midst of a desperate push for the playoffs. On Tuesday night, they faced the Cleveland Monsters in the first of a two-game set on the shores of Lake Erie. The Comets are closing in on the North Division regular-season title, while the Monsters are on the opposite end of the division; as they are in last place and eliminated from playoff contention.
The Comets started Tuesday night’s game in dominating fashion, taking seven shots on Monsters starting goaltender Cam Johnson in the first three and a half minutes of the game. The seventh shot turned out to be lucky number seven, as Tyler Wotherspoon sprung Utica’s team-leading scorer Chase DeLeo on a breakaway in which he snapped a shot over Johnson’s glove to the Comets an early 1-0 lead.
Cleveland swung the momentum in their favor after the DeLeo goal, getting ten shots of their own in on Utica starting goaltender Akira Schmid. It was the Comets, however, who would get the next goal. Nolan Foote sent a centering pass from behind the Cleveland net to Brian Flynn, whose backhand shot from the slot was deflected off of a Monsters defender and into their net with just one minute and forty seconds left in the period. The goal extended Flynn’s three-goal point streak – currently the longest one on the team.
Although they will not make the playoffs, the Monsters to their credit did not give up after going down by two goals. They plugged away for the entire second period and finally broke through with just under a minute left in the frame when Roman Achan sent a pass from the front of the Utica net to Owen Sillinger, who fired a shot past Schmid from the bottom of the left circle to cut the Comets lead in half heading into the second intermission.
The third period started with a fight between Sam Laberge and Billy Sweezey just two and half minutes after the opening faceoff. Ten seconds after the fisticuffs, Cleveland’s Dillon Simpson took a slashing penalty to put the Comets on the power-play with a chance to restore their two-goal lead. They thought they had done just that when Alexander Holtz blasted a shot into the Cleveland net from the left circle, but it was waived off as the play was blown dead prior to the shot when Johnson’s helmet had come off.
This would come back to haunt the Comets, as the Monsters tied the game with just under six minutes to go when Tyce Thompson’s pass in his own zone was deflected right to Cleveland’s Justin Scott. Scott then buried a wrist shot from the slot for his fifteenth goal of the season. Three minutes later, the Monsters took their first lead of the game when Cole Fonstadsent a saucer pass through the neutral zone to Trey Fix-Wolansky, who got behind the defense and beat Schmid on the glove side to put the home team up by one with just under three minutes remaining.
They haven’t been dubbed the “Cardiac Comets” for nothing, and Utica earned that moniker once again on Tuesday night. With Schmid on the bench for an extra skater, Ryan Schmelzer scored with one minute remaining to tie the game. The third period ended with a tie score and another fight, as Robbie Russo and Justin Scott dropped the gloves as time expired in regulation.
It only took one minute and thirty-one minutes into overtime for the Monsters to stun the Eastern Conference-leading Comets. Tim Berni picked up a loose puck and got it to Tyler Sikura who beat Schmid with the only shot of the overtime to seal the win for his team. The two teams will face each other again on Wednesday night at the same venue, here are three observations from Cleveland’s 4-3 overtime victory on Tuesday night.
Despite the loss, the Comet’s magic number went down.
The Utica Comets entered Tuesday night’s game with a magic number of three to clinch the North Division regular season. The second-place Laval Rocket did not play, so the number would only be affected by the play of the Comets. Although they did not pick up a victory, they did earn one point for making it to overtime. Their magic number for the division title is now two, so one more win and it is theirs – regardless of what Laval does in the remainder of their games.
The Comets are stumbling at the wrong time.
The good news is the Comets have locked up their playoff spot, will win the North Division regular-season title, and still have a very good chance to clinch the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The bad news is they have gone into a slump as a team at the most inopportune time. In the eight games they have played in the month of April, the Comets have only two wins and six points – hardly the finish to the regular season the team wants. Additionally, they have blown leads of at least two goals in three of these games.
Ideally, the Comets will want to have some momentum on their side heading into the playoffs, and starting Wednesday night, they have four games remaining (one at home and three on the road) to get back on track before the postseason tournament begins.
When Will Key Players Come Back From New Jersey?
The Utica Comets will be getting reinforcements back from the New Jersey Devils by the end of April at the latest. The Devils recalled Fabian Zetterlund, AJ Greer, and Kevin Bahl in early April, and goaltender Nico Daws has been with the team for most of the second half of the season. All four will be back in Utica for the start of the AHL Playoffs, the question now is when exactly will that happen?
New Jersey management has given no timeline as to when that will happen. Zetterlund, Bahl, and Daws have been regulars in the lineup during New Jersey’s recent western road trip, but with Andreas Johnsson returning to the lineup, it appears that AJ Greer has been reassigned to the Comets as it has been listed on the AHL transactions page. Greer will be a very welcome addition to a Utica lineup that could use his physicality and scoring touch. Greer would make his return on either Wednesday night in Cleveland or home on Friday night at home against Rochester.