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Utica Comets clinch playoff spot; team's winless streak hits four games

Posted 4/11/22

The late-season weekend trip to Canada wasn’t the most kind to the Utica Comets.  And, while a trip to the postseason is essentially assured for the Comets, the team has had to wait a little bit …

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Utica Comets clinch playoff spot; team's winless streak hits four games

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There's a bit of mixed news for the Utica Comets.

The late-season weekend trip to Canada wasn’t the most kind to the Comets.

And, while a trip to the postseason has essentially been assured for the Comets with help from that red-hot 13-0-0-0 start to the 2021-22 season, the team needed a little assistance recently from the North Division opponents to officially lock up a playoff spot.

There was good news for the Comets on Monday when the team was idle. With help from Laval's win in regulation over Belleville, Utica became the first North Division team to earn a spot in the playoffs. The Comets are the second Eastern Conference team to clinch a spot in the postseason following Charlotte.

Utica is also the closest clinching the North Division title, though there is more work to do. 

Utica appeared on its way to clinching one of the playoff spots Saturday afternoon with a big first-period lead, but Laval spoiled those plans by rallying with five consecutive goals for a 5-3 win at Place Bell in Quebec.

The result spelled a second loss in less than 24 hours for the Comets following a 4-1 setback to Belleville on Friday. The Comets fell behind in that game – the team allowed three goals in first 4:58 – and couldn’t overcome an eventual four-goal deficit.

The Comets finish the regular-season with a 3-5-0-0 record in Canada this season. 

With the results, the Comets are winless in four consecutive games (0-3-1-0) for the first time this season. The team has seven regular-season games remaining with Utica set for home games Friday against Syracuse and Saturday against Belleville. Both are the final scheduled regular-season meetings against the North Division foes. 

With the weekend losses, the team (39-18-7-1, 0.662 points percentage) remains in first place in the seven-team North Division, though the Comets’ lead isn’t as robust as it has been at other points in the season. Points percentage is used this season to determine playoff position as some teams in the division are playing 72 games – like the Comets – and others have a 76-game slate. The top five teams in the North are set to make the Calder Cup playoffs. 

Laval, winner of four consecutive games after Monday's road win, is in second place in the North with 0.595 points percentage. Syracuse (0.575), Toronto (0.563) and Rochester (0.541) round out the other playoff spots in a tight race. Belleville is just behind with 0.547 points percentage.

There were some positive milestones for the Comets during the weekend, including forward Chase De Leo becoming the third Comets player to reach 50 points this season Saturday with an assist in the first period. He joins Fabian Zetterlund and A.J. Greer – both still on recall with the parent New Jersey Devils – to reach the mark. Rookie standout Alexander Holtz is the next player closest to reaching the 50-point after a two-point outing Saturday. He sits at 47 points. 

The 50-point mark had been reached with the Comets a total of seven times among six players in the previous eight seasons.

And, with help from Nolan Foote’s blast to help cap a three-goal outburst in less than two minutes in the first period, the team bested a single-season record of 224 total goals. Utica teams had amassed 224 goals twice in a season as the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, most recently in 2018-19. 

After Utica grabbed a big lead, Laval rocketed back with three goals – and two assists from Nate Schnarr, who was traded by New Jersey to the Montreal Canadiens organization at March’s trade deadline – in just under eight minutes to tie the game in the first period. 

The Rocket took the lead for good on Jean-Sebastien Dea’s wrister early in the third before adding an empty-netter. 

Utica finishes 3-3-0-0 against Laval this season. 

Depending how the regular season shakes out, the teams could meet again in the playoffs. 

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