Utica Comets fall in OT against Charlotte, earn point in fourth consecutive game
UTICA – There are good stretches within the Utica Comets’ game.
The Charlotte Checkers managed to get some fortunate bounces Friday during some of the Comets' unfortunate stretches.
Charlotte tied the game early in the third period following a Comets’ offensive zone penalty and then Aleski Heponiemi scored quickly into overtime to help the Checkers score a 2-1 victory in the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the Eastern Conference teams.
“I liked a lot of stretches of our game,” Comets coach Kevin Dineen said. “You recognize what’s happening and you push back. They’re an aggressive team. … Overall, I don’t mind our game.”
The Comets nearly ended it quickly in overtime when Schmelzer forced a turnover, spun and drove to the net, but was stopped by a fancy glove stop by Jean-Francois Berube. In the process of shooting, Schmelzer took a whack across the legs from Charlotte’s Lucas Carlsson. The penalty went uncalled by the officials.
Charlotte (31-18-3-2) went the other way and Heponiemi scored from one knee past Comets’ goaltender Isaac Poulter 19 seconds into 3-on-3 overtime.
The 21-year-old rookie getting the start in net for the Comets on Friday was a new wrinkle for a team navigating roster change recently: Goaltender Nico Daws didn’t dress Friday due to what was deemed a “rest day.”
Dineen said Daws will be evaluated Saturday and he’s considered questionable for Sunday against Syracuse. Utica University coach Adam Dekker served as an emergency backup.
In Daws’ place, Poulter turned in a solid performance totaling 28 saves with several timely stops in his fifth AHL start.
“He played great,” Dineen said. “At the end of it, he was a big part of us picking up a point.”
Jack Dugan scored in his third consecutive game to give the Comets an early lead before Charlotte pushed back in the third. Utica had several quality chances throughout the game when Berube seemed to be out of position.
The result gave the Comets points in four consecutive games (3-0-1-0) as the team continues to try make a push for the playoffs with 18 regular-season contests remaining. Friday's game was the first home contest for Utica since Feb. 18.
With the result combined with Syracuse’s win over Lehigh Valley on Friday, the Comets (26-20-6-2) drop to third place in the North Division with 60 points, one back of the Crunch. The Comets and Crunch meet at 3 p.m. Sunday in Utica in the first of six meetings before the end of the regular-season. It is a series that could go along way in determining the playoff fates of each team.
It was a solid effort for a Comets squad that was againwithout forwards Alex Holtz, Brian Pinho, Nolan Stevens, Nick Hutchison and defenseman Michael Vukojevic because of injuries. That’s on top of losing Andreas Johnsson and Nikita Okhotiuk via New Jersey’s trade with San Jose earlier in the week.
Dineen noted that it is possible Holtz – “we miss that high end skill” – could return from his lower-body injury that has forced him to miss the last four games. Graeme Clarke was also assigned to Utica before the game before didn't make it back in time to play with New Jersey on th West Coast.
Despite the roster changes, the Comets had outscored opponents 15-5 in the previous three games entering Friday.
“Our situation is what it is and we understand that. We prepare for it and we know how we had to play,” Dineen said. “I think there were good snapshots (Friday). We build off that and keep on grinding and moving forward.”
On Friday, the New Jersey Devils made goaltender Akira Schmid and defenseman Kevin Bahl eligible for the rest of the AHL season and playoffs at the afternoon deadline. Clarke is also eligible.
It means they can join the Comets at any time the rest of the way. Though, with New Jersey nearing a playoff spot, it is unclear when they might.
The Devils also traded a draft pick for forward Curtis Lazard on Friday. The team made no other moves at the NHL deadline that directly affected the Comets.
On Friday, New Jersey General Manager Tom Fitzgerald said prospect standout defenseman Luke Hughes will join the Devils after his college season at Michigan ends. When that happens, he would be ineligible to join the Comets this season.
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