Puck bounces Comets’ way in 7th straight home win
UTICA — Luck has been on the Utica Comets’ side as they continue to string together crucial wins to keep their playoff hunt alive.
On Friday, the Comets won their seventh straight contest on home ice as they downed the Galaxy Cup Rival Syracuse Crunch, 4-3, at the sold-out Utica Memorial Auditorium.
In their last 11 outings, the Comets have compiled an 9-1-1 record, putting them at 29-24-7-2 this season.
Comets center Pascal Pelletier enjoyed a milestone night as he collected a goal and an assist in his 800th professional career game. The center has spent parts of his 17-year career in the QMJHL, the ECHL, the AHL, the NHL, the Swiss League and the KHL.
“It’s the time of season where you have to bring your best every game,” said Pelletier after the contest, playing down his achievement.
The Comets announced the milestone during the first period as fans applauded the fan favorite. Pelletier joined the Comets in the club’s inaugural season, where he currently holds the team’s single-season record with 22 goals.
He returned to the team this season on a professional tryout contract on Nov. 21.
Comets right winger Borna Rendulic also had a two-point night and Thatcher Demko won his eighth straight appearance in goal as he turned away 35 saves. Demko now sits at a 17-11-4 record this season.
“We weren’t on top of our game,” said Comets head coach Travis Green. “We weren’t great. You have to give Syracuse a lot of credit. They came in and had a lot of pressure on us, and they put a lot of pucks in the paint.”
Rendulic ripped a shot in the slot past Crunch goaltender Mike McKenna at 13:22 in the first period for his 12th of the season. Pelletier dropped a touch pass to Rendulic from the half board to pick up the primary assist as defenseman Colby Robak added the secondary assist.
“I just saw him before getting the puck,” said Pelletier about setting up Rendulic, who has scored five points in his last two games. “I just bumped it to him in the middle.”
At 14:42 in the second period, Pelletier went bar-down to give the Comets a two-goal lead. Rendulic rushed down ice to beat the icing call and tipped it to left winger Michael Carcone. Carcone teed up Pelletier for his ninth goal of the season.
“Both of them went down and put pressure,” said Pelletier about the play of Rendulic and Carcone. “It was a bang-bang play and that’s what you have to do against Syracuse.”
At 17:44 in the second, left winger Henri Ikonen spoiled Demko’s shutout bid after catching a pass from defenseman Adam Comrie at the half boards. Ikonen outworked Demko and slid it past the goaltender for his third of the season on the power-play.
Comets left winger Darren Archibald regained the two-goal lead with his team-leading 20th goal on the power-play at 4:05 in the third period. Cody Kunyk won the face-off and passed to Evan McEneny, who fired a shot on goal. Archibald deflected the shot in front of McKenna.
The Crunch quickly tacked on two quick goals just 31 seconds apart to tie the game 3-3.
Left winger Mike Halmo tapped home a pass from Ikonen from the left corner and Tye McGinn tied the game on a failed clearing attempt by the Comets. Newly named Crunch captain Erik Condra fed McGinn, who buried his own rebound in front of Demko.
At 8:15 in the third period, New Hartford native and Comets center Mike Zalewski scored his second goal in as many games. Jordan Subban blasted a shot from the point and Zalewski tipped it in to the side of McKenna for his fourth of the season.
“You gotta find ways to win games when you’re not playing your best,” said Green. “We just weren’t great on the puck tonight. We turned the puck over a lot in the neutral zone. Syracuse had us on our heels a little bit. Sometimes, you got to raise your game to find ways to win and we did that tonight.”
With the Comets heading on the road for their next six games, Green noted that there won’t be any change to the approach in preparation.
The Comets will kick off the six-game road trip tonight as they head to Bridgeport to take on the Sound Tigers at 7:30. The Comets don’t return to the Aud until Saturday, April 1, when they host the Rochester Americans in a home-and-home series. Puck drop is at 7 o’clock.
Prior to Friday’s contest, the Comets announced they have signed forward Max French to an amateur tryout contract.
French completed his senior season at Bentley University, where he ranked first on the team with 22 assists and 39 points. He was also named to the NCAA First All-Star for the second consecutive season.
During his 138-game career at Bentley, he amassed 143 points.