The Utica Comets took on the Belleville Senators at the Adirondack Bank Center on Martin Brodeur night with playoff implications on the line.
There was a buzz in the air on Wednesday night when the Utica Comets faced the Belleville Senators. The Comets entered the game needing five points to clinch a playoff spot (and only nine for the division title), and there was a certain legendary Hall of Fame goaltender in the building that was to be honored throughout the game. It also helped the home team was playing a team they had not lost to all season long, as the Comets defeated the Senators in all three of their previous meetings.
When the puck dropped to open the game, the electricity in the building continued. It took less than five minutes for a fight to break out, as Utica’s Pat McGrath and Belleville’s Scott Sabourin dropped the gloves at the 3:11 mark. It was a precursor of things to come, as the Senators employed a physical and aggressive forecheck against the Comets all game long. After Utica took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a goal by Chase DeLeo, Belleville tied the score with less than four minutes left in the frame on a tally by Egor Sokolov. The first period ended in a 1-1 tie, but Utica goaltender Akira Schmid saw a lot of action, as the visitors outshot the home team by a margin of 15-8.
Belleville took the lead early in the second period when Roby Jarventie sent a centering pass from behind the Utica goal line to Logan Shaw who beat Schmid from the slot. Utica answered back when Michael Vukojevic sent a shot from the left point that was redirected by Nolan Foote past Senators goaltender Filip Gustavsson to tie the game. It wouldn’t last as with less than minutes to go in the second period, the Senators took the lead yet again on another goal from the slot, this time by Colby Williams to give Belleville a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
With their backs against the wall, the Comets were able to break through and tie the game in the third period. Chase DeLeo took control of the puck behind the Belleville net and found Alexander Holtz who beat Gustavsson with a shot from about fifteen feet in front of the net. The 3-3 score would hold through the end of the period, and an already buzzing crowd got even more excited when the Comets opened the overtime period on a two-minute power play. To the crowd’s chagrin, the home team could not take advantage, and after killing the penalty Belleville got a goal from Logan Shaw with 1:33 left to win the game and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Now that the game is in the books, here are three observations from a big night at the Adirondack Bank Center.
Utica loves Martin Brodeur.
It’s safe to say that Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. Before going on to win three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies with the New Jersey Devils, he played with the Utica Devils of the AHL during the 1992-93 season. The fans did not forget, and the organization rolled out the red carpet for “Martin Brodeur Night” as every fan received a Brodeur bobblehead, the legend himself dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff, and his career and accomplishments were highlighted all night long. Even though the end result was not what the team and their fans wanted, it was still a special night for all involved.
Next man up.
The New Jersey Devils have been hit with a wave of injuries yet again, and it affects the Utica Comets. Already missing Frederik Gauthier and Jeremy Groleau due to injuries, it was announced about two hours prior to the start of Wednesday night’s game that Fabian Zetterlund and AJ Greer had been recalled to New Jersey. How long they will be there remains to be seen (on Saturday the Devils begin a ten-day road trip) but it is certainly a blow to the Comets for the immediate future, as Zetterlund and Greer are numbers one and two on the team’s scoring list and are major sparkplugs both on and off the ice.
This is not however entirely surprising as NHL callups from Utica were expected in the month of April anyways, but for the Comets to have a strong finish to the regular season, it will have to be a “next man up” mentality going forward. The good news is the Comets got Nolan Foote back on Wednesday night after missing ten games with an injury and made an immediate impact – recording a goal and an assist. Two key players that have been in a slump as of late also got on the scoresheet against Belleville. Alexander Holtz, who had scored one goal in his ten games prior to Wednesday night, scored his twenty-third goal of the season. Reilly Walsh, the young defenseman who is such a big part of Utica’s transition game and power play had just one goal and one assist in his past fifteen games going into Wednesday night. He recorded a power-play assist in this game which will hopefully for Utica be the start of many more. With the current roster upheaval, the Comets will need Holtz and Walsh now more than ever.
The Comet’s opponents will continue to be desperate.
The Belleville Senators came into Wednesday night’s game in sixth place in the North Division, and just barely out of a playoff spot. They played an aggressive game you would expect from a team with desperate urgency to make the playoffs and were rewarded with a victory for their efforts. The Comets can expect to see this for the rest of the season.
With a magic number of two and nine games remaining, the Utica Comets are going to make the playoffs (their magic number went down three points as a result of other games). The rest of the North Division, however, is still a very tight battle for the remaining four playoff births, and eight of Utica’s remaining nine games are against North Division opponents. Everyone in the division still has a chance to get into the playoffs, and the Comets can expect a desperate effort from all of their opponents going forward as they did from the Senators on Wednesday night.
The Comets could possibly clinch a playoff spot this weekend, as they play at Belleville on Friday night, and at a surging Laval Rocket on Saturday afternoon. Radio coverage will be on 94.9 K-Rock, and the television broadcasts will be on AHLTV. For the latest updates on the Utica Comet’s magic numbers please visit the daily playoff primer at https://theahl.com.