Comets' comeback ends with shootout victory
The Utica Comets never led the visiting Hartford Wolf Pack Friday night in regulation or in overtime. But when the shootout ended, the Comets had overcome a 2-0 deficit and won the game.
The win kicked off a stretch of three games in three days, all against Atlantic Division opponents. This was the only one at home in the Adirondack Bank Center.
The win also extends the Comets' season-best point streak to nine games.
Utica head coach Kevin Dineen said after the win that his team knew it was facing an opponent that despite recent losses has played well of late. "We're really pleased to get a win to start the new year in the home building." Even down 2-0, he said, "we were comfortable" and "we straightened out our game," especially regarding puck management.
"The Stevens line was a big difference maker," Dineen said of the group of center Nolan Stevens and wings Graeme Clarke and Joe Gambardella. The line produced both goals and Clarke's shootout tally got the team the win.
Dineen said of Clarke: "I haven't talked to him in a month. I'm leaving him alone. He's hot. He's playing the right way." He added, "He's rolling. Guys like that, you find ways to get him the puck." The 21-year-old had one goal in his first dozen games but has 11 in the last 16.
Despite outshooting the Wolf Pack 12 to six, the Comets surrendered the lone goal of the first period. On its first power play, Hartford opened the scoring when a point shot deflected off Ryan Carpenter near the net of Nico Daws and across the goal line 12:18 into the contest.
The Comets had a chance to tie the game late in the first when the team got its own power play. Another Hartford penalty gave the Comets a two-man advantage for 1:02. Utica failed to convert during the stretch.
Again the Comets outshot the Wolf Pack by a wide margin in the second — 18 to 10. This time each team scored once.
First the Wolf Pack pushed its lead to two when Brandon Scanlin got space alone in the left circle and snapped off a shot that beat Daws to make it 2-0 with 3:22 elapsed.
The Comets cut the deficit back to one goal when Gambardella scored his fourth goal of the season. He pushed a rebound across the line from the far post with 8:16 left in the middle frame. Robbie Russo (12th) and Clarke (16th) got assists on the score.
Clarke tied the game in the third with his 12th goal of the season. The team leader in points with 28 is also one goal behind Nolan Foote for the team lead. Stevens earned his 13th assist of the season on the goal. The initial shot was saved by Louis Domingue but the puck popped up in the air and though the goalie spun to face the net and tried to get a glove on it, it managed to drop past him and into the goal to tie the game 2-2 with 13:10 left in regulation.
Overtime came and went without a goal, then Clarke made another play. After Daws had stopped Hartford's first shootout attempt, Clarke weaved back and forth then beat Domingue for what would prove to be the lone successful attempt for either team. Daws stopped all three Hartford shots to seal the comeback win.
"We battled back. We played our game," Clarke said after the win. "We have a lot of pace to our game, so I think by the end of the game we were kind of outworking them and they started getting tired and that's when we capitalized."
The power play went 0-for-5 for Utica despite having had recent success. Dineen said it was "just OK," and Clarke added, "I think we got a little stationary and weren't shooting enough."
Regardless, Clarke said, the win was a good way to begin the task of three games in three days. "To start it off with a comeback win in the shootout is definitely a good way to start. Get momentum going for tomorrow."
Daws stopped 21 shots to earn the win. Dominque made 37 saves.
Utica improves to 15-9-5-1, tying Rochester for second in the North Division. Hartford remains at the bottom of the Atlantic, and is now 11-13-1-6.
The Comets hit the road for a pair of games this weekend against more Atlantic competition. First it's the Springfield Thunderbirds Saturday night at 7 then Sunday against the Providence Bruins at 3. The team returns home for a 7 p.m. tilt Wednesday against the Cleveland Monsters.
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