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Fort Wayne's three-goal third period put a damper on a festive atmosphere at the Huntington Center on Friday night.
The last-place Walleye hung with a hungry Komets team that is fighting a playoff spot for two periods. A crowd of 7,284 was part of a doubleheader downtown celebration event with the Mud Hens' opener earlier in the day.
The game was tied at 1 after two periods but Toledo's losing streak reached three games with a 4-1 setback to Fort Wayne.
The Komets scored the game winner on Shawn Szydlowski's power play goal with 13:42 left in regulation. Fort Wayne's Chris Auger iced it with an empty-net goal with one minute left and former Walleye player Aaron Clarke added another with less than a second remaining.
“[Fort Wayne] is trying to maintain that playoff position and get a good push down the stretch,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “We matched them in the first two periods but we came unraveled in the third after a bad penalty call on us. They capitalized on the power play and we did not stay cool, calm, and collected.”
Max Shalunov scored his team-high 15th goal in the first period for Toledo (21-42-5). Toledo goalie Hannu Toivonen (12-15-0) finished with 27 saves. The Komets (33-23-12), who came into the game occupying the eighth and final playoff spot, scored three straight goals.
The teams meet again on Sunday in Fort Wayne and Toledo forward Tyler Elbrecht tried to send a message late by attempting to instigate a fight.
“It's just one of those games where it's 3-1 and there's 30 seconds left and you're playing again on Sunday and you're looking to change the momentum at the end,” he said. “If a fight happens there it doesn't hurt us in any way and it might bruise their mentality for the weekend. I was just trying to get some energy.”
Elbrecht, who was called for a high sticking penalty with 22 seconds left, said he was trying to to boost the crowd's morale. More than 20,000 fans celebrated the downtown event, including 12,787 at Fifth Third Field.
“It was great with the doubleheader,” Elbrecht said. “I think a lot of the fans came over here. The crowd was great and they’re sticking behind us even though it hasn't been the greatest year. It's great playing here.”
Watson said he walked over to Fifth Third Field for the baseball opening ceremonies.
“It was fantastic. There was a very creative buzz going on downtown,” he said. “As the building filled up you could feel the energy. It gave us a spark, especially for all the young guys we have.”
The Komets took a 1-0 lead shortly after a Walleye power play expired midway through the first period. Fort Wayne scored when Brandon Marino tipped in a pass from Matt Carter.
Shalunov tied it on assists from Kyle Rogers and Matt Abercrombie. Shalunov lifted in a shot over Fort Wayne goalie Ben Meisner (26 saves). Referee Tyler Puddifant waved off the goal initially, thinking it had the post. After a brief review the goal was ruled good.
“He's an offensive talent,” Watson said. “He's a force and he won't be in this league if he is playing at a high level like this. He showed great patience on that goal.”
It was Toledo's first goal in seven periods — a span that lasted 164 minutes, 30 seconds.
Fort Wayne scored the decisive goal eight seconds into the man advantage when Szydlowski shoveled a loose puck into an open net.
The Walleye have four games left in the regular season, including two at home next Friday and Sunday.
“We will watch a little video and show the young guys how to keep their composure,” Watson said. “We will be ready to go on Sunday.”