Utica Comets respond with lopsided Game 2 win over Toronto to even series
TORONTO — After Utica scored five goals in Game 1 of the North Division semifinals against Toronto, Comets coach Kevin Dineen said he liked what he saw from the offense.
The team’s offense stepped up again in Game 2 on Saturday afternoon in Toronto.
And, goaltender Nico Daws turned in an impressive outing as part of a hard-working, total team effort on the road as the Comets overcame relinquishing another early multi-goal lead.
Utica busted open a tie game with a three-goal second period and Daws totaled 28 stops as the Comets bounced back to secure a lopsided 7-2 victory at Coca-Cola Coliseum and even the best-of-five series.
"I think we played a full 60 minutes," said Daws in a post-game interview via the team. "I think we got too comfortable in the first game after the first period. (Saturday) we kept the pedal to the metal. We continued to work hard and tried to stay disciplined."
Daws said the team shutdown Toronto's odd-man rushes, which helped overall.
Dineen praised his goaltending and said the decision-making on both sides of the puck was better Saturday.
"We've had a pretty good formula the last three weeks," Dineen said in an interview released via the team. "I think (Saturday) is a good reminder that when we play the right way, good things will follow."
It was a needed victory for the fourth-seeded Comets as the series shifts to Utica against the North Division’s top-seeded Marlies, which showed struggles defensively throughout Game 2.
Game 3 is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Utica. A possible deciding Game 4 is 7 p.m. Friday also at the Adirondack Bank Center.
Saturday's win snaps a four-game winless stretch for a Utica American Hockey League team in Toronto after dropping three during the 2018 postseason.
Saturday’s seven goals are a record for a Comets team over nearly 40 Calder Cup playoff games since 2015.
A key moment of Saturday’s game happened in the second period. Less than a minute after grabbing a 4-2 lead on a goal on the rush by captain Ryan Schmelzer, Daws made three stops, including two rebound tries on a scramble in tight from Alex Steeves with about six minutes left to keep Toronto from gaining momentum.
After the clutch stops, Utica went the other way. Brian Pinho eventually dug the puck off the boards, sending a nifty pass to an unchecked Xavier Parent, who got the puck to roll in past Toronto’s Keith Petruzzelli (19 saves).
"Obviously, our second period we just felt like (it was) more of a complete game," Dineen said in an interview via the team. "There was more composure to our game. There was more predictability, the way you have to play to have success. When that works, you create offense off that. That's a good thing."
With the effort, Daws earned his fifth postseason win in his eighth career start. The effort comes after he stopped a career-best 43 in the Game 1 overtime loss to Toronto. Daws has made all four starts in this postseason and will likely continue to be leaned on.
Utica added insurance in the third period with a power-play goal from Graeme Clarke – who is tied for the Comets' postseason points lead with Reilly Walsh with five – and another four-on-four by Pinho on a backhander off the post and in less than four minutes apart to put an exclamation point on the win.
A total of 15 players had at least a point with five players turning in multi-point games as part of the gutsy and tenacious victory.
Schmelzer and Pinho each finished with a goal and assist and Robbie Russo, Jayce Hawryluk and Alex Holtz each added two assists.
Nolan Stevens also scored as part of the three-goal second period.
Brian Halonen and Aarne Talvitie had first-period goals for the usually fairly low-scoring Comets, who have 12 goals in two games against Toronto.
The five unanswered goals over the second and third periods for Utica followed an uneven first period in which the game officials made some controversial calls, including an instigating penalty on Halonen.
Utica – which was the better team five-on-five – built a 2-0 lead with help from a quick strike by Halonen following a skilled half-turn pass from Holtz less than two minutes into the game. Holtz has five assists in four playoff games.
After successfully killing a Marlies power play later, Utica extended the lead with 7:40 left with help from a fortunate bounce.
On the play, Tyce Thompson broke into the zone and dropped a pass to Talvitie, who spun and backhanded the puck toward the net. It bounced off a Marlies’ skate and in.
It was Talvitie’s second goal of the playoffs.
However, Toronto answered with two power-play goals less than two minutes apart to draw even. The goals from Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (6:18 left) and Kyle Clifford (4:51 remaining) in close came after a questionable cross-checking call on Tyler Wotherspoon and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Schmelzer following exaggerated contact by a Marlies player on a faceoff at center ice.
Despite losing another lead, it again didn’t seem to confound the Comets.
"After (they tied it), it was foot on the gas from there," Clarke said via the team. "Big win for us. To get the split in Toronto and go back to Utica feeling confident is huge for us."
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