Instead of starting their usual late-season rush, the Fort Wayne Komets are trying to fight off a slide.
The Komets lost for the third time in four games Tuesday night, falling 2-1 to ECHL North Division leader Cincinnati on the road. The Cyclones now lead the third-place Komets by 10 points with 21 games remaining in the regular season.
``We've played a man short for the last three games, this was our fourth game in six nights, and with all the travel involved, I'm proud of the guys,'' Komets coach Al Sims said by phone. ``They gave it everything they had and were still fighting at the end.''
This was the Komets' fourth straight road game, and they'll finish the stretch Friday in Evansville before coming home Saturday to face the IceMen again. The week finishes at Toledo on Sunday.
The Komets added defenseman Jamie Milam to the roster Tuesday, but they were without forward John Dunbar, who has a lower-body injury. Sims said he doubts Dunbar will be able to play this weekend.
An inconsistent offense continues to torment the Komets, who were outshot 25-8 through the first two periods before rallying to outshoot the Cyclones 13-4 in the third period.
Goaltender Marco Cousineau kept the Komets in the game through two periods, making 23 saves. Cousineau, who had been playing with Norfolk of the American Hockey League, was sent back to the Komets earlier in the day Tuesday.
``He was awesome,'' Sims said. ``He played great.''
Goaltender Charlie Effinger had played the last five games in a row, but he was placed on bereavement leave Monday to go home to St. Louis for his grandmother's funeral. IPFW goaltender Larkin Saalfrank backed up Cousineau on an emergency basis Tuesday night. Effinger is expected back in time for Friday's game.
Just like seven of the last nine Komets' opponents before them, the Cyclones scored first as Andrew Conboy hit a knuckleball of a shot past Cousineau 13:34 into the first period.
``The puck took a weird bounce over Marco, and then he reached back and accidentally knocked the puck into the net,'' Sims said. ``I really think in the first period we carried most of the play, but they got some fortunate bounces. They got all the bounces.''
After the Komets had a potential tying goal waved off because it went in after the whistle, the Cyclones pushed the lead to 2-0 3:36 into the second period on a power-play goal by Matt Smyth off a rebound.
While the Cyclones had two power-play chances in the first period, the Komets did not earn one until the third period.
After the Komets cut the margin to 2-1 on a Brandon Marino goal off a Dan Nycholat assist halfway through the period, they had another possible goal waved off. With a delayed penalty call against the Cyclones, this time referee Geoff Miller said he thought a Cincinnati player had controlled the puck to kill the play.
The Komets failed to score on the ensuing power play. After killing off a Ryan Hegarty penalty, the Komets came back with their second power-play opportunity of the game at 17:50 of the third period but could not beat Cincinnati goaltender Brian Foster.
``Their goalie played well and made some saves, but we had some chances,'' Sims said. ``We could have had four or five goals, including the two that got waved off.''