Utica Comets give up big lead in OT loss to Toronto in Game 1
The Utica Comets seemed to have Toronto Marlies on the ropes.
The Comets were in control early in Thursday’s Calder Cup playoff contest against the North Division’s regular-season champs after building a three-goal lead.
That advantage evaporated for the Comets along with a brief one-goal lead early in the third period. Though, Utica did get some late heroics again to force overtime in a wild contest.
It wasn’t enough for a Utica team trying to gain momentum for the second time in as many weeks in Canada.
Joseph Blandisi scored with 1:25 remaining in overtime as the highly offensive Marlies handed the Comets a 6-5 setback in Game 1 of the best-of-five North Division semifinals at Coca-Cola Coliseum.
Game 2 is 4 p.m. Saturday in Toronto. Game 3 is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Utica.
The opening game of the series is a missed opportunity for Utica, which coughed up leads of 3-0 and 4-3. The team also had to rally from a one-goal deficit in the third period.
Mismanaged moments on the ice again played a role for the Comets, who were coming off two superb outings in a sweep of the Laval Rocket.
“We knew we could take advantage of them and we did (early). We just have to learn to manage the game better,” Comets captain Ryan Schmelzer said in an interview via the team. “We kind of fed into their offense. We know they like to get on the rush. That's how they play. We had a couple of irresponsible (forwards in too deep) in our (offensive) zone, a couple of pinches here and there and fed right into their game."
Both teams finished 1-for-3 on the power play. The teams combined for 94 shots including 24 in the extra frame.
In overtime, Blandisi took advantage of a Comets’ turnover in the neutral zone forced by Toronto leading scoring Logan Shaw. Blandisi skated into the zone, firing from the left circle with two Comets players trying to break up the play and placing it over the shoulder of Nico Daws (43 saves on 49 shots) in the game that lasted 3 hours and 15 minutes.
It capped a three-point game (goal, two assists) for Blandisi, who previously played 77 regular-season games for the New Jersey Devils’ affiliate in Albany and Binghamton. He also played 13 postseason games with Binghamton.
Shaw added two goals and an assist for a Toronto team that appeared to take some time to get warmed up after an 11-day layoff because of a bye. The team had limped into the postseason with two wins in the last 13 games.
"Tone and tempo I thought was there (for us)," Comets coach Kevin Dineen said in an interview via the team. "Then, we get lulled into our bad habits which (is) understanding that when you're up that a team is going to push and you're a little more responsible. ... We just have to do a better job on the defensive side of the puck."
With a sixth attacker on the ice late in regulation, Utica forced overtime with 52 seconds remaining as Alex Holtz ripped a shot from the left circle past Keith Peturzzelli (40 on 45 shots).
That was needed after two goals less than a minute apart by Shaw and Semyon Der-Arguchinstev to rally and grab a brief lead in the third.
Comets’ regular-season scoring leader Graeme Clarke totaled three points (goal, two assists) and Reilly Walsh continued his red-hot run with two goals to give him four in three postseason games this spring. Defenseman Mason Geertsen had two assists for his first postseason points.
Rookie Xavier Parent’s goal on a rebound from the right side of the net past a sprawling Peturzzelli 2:06 into the second period put Utica ahead 3-0.
However, after a pair of Comets’ shots ricocheted off the post in the period that could have extended the lead, Toronto found a gear.
The Marlies scored twice 2:43 apart and then added another with 6:01 left by Shaw to tie the game at 3.
"They obviously played a 60-minute game. There was no letdown by them even though we were up three goals," Joe Gambardella said in an interview via the team. "It is going to be a full, all-out effort by everybody. It is going to take all 30 guys."
Toronto 1, Utica 0
North Division semifinals
Game 1: Toronto 6, Utica 5 (OT)
Game 2: Utica at Toronto, 4 p.m.
Wednesday, May 3
Game 3: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
Tickets available at empirestatetix.com.
Friday, May 5
x-Game 4: Toronto at Utica, 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 7
x-Game 5: Utica at Toronto, 4 p.m.
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