The Walleye suffered their first home loss of the season as rival Fort Wayne earned a rare road win against its chief adversary on Wednesday morning.
The Komets rallied furiously in the third period to pin Toledo with a 5-2 setback at the Huntington Center.
Fort Wayne scored back-to-back goals exactly one minute apart in the third period, including the game-winner from Garrett Thompson with 6:21 left in regulation. Thompson finished with a hat-trick.
Toledo fell to 7-1-0 at the downtown arena despite getting two goals from forward Mike Borkowski, including the go-ahead goal with 10:47 left in regulation. Borkowski took over the team lead in points during the special morning game before a crowd of 7,542 that consisted primarily of school kids.
But the Komets broke Toledo’s home winning streak with four unanswered goals in the third.
“All good things come to an end,” Walleye coach Dan Watson said. “Being a big rival with Fort Wayne, we didn’t want it to happen today. We wanted to take care of home ice, and we didn’t do that today. Hopefully, that puts us in a sour mood and we can start another [winning streak].”
Fort Wayne tied it at 2 on a goal by Louick Marcotte with 7:21 left and a minute later Thompson gave the Komets their first lead of the game. Curtis Leonard then scored a little more than two minutes later for a two-goal cushion. Fort Wayne scored three goals in a span of 3:17 to take over the game and then added an empty-netter from Thompson with 47 seconds left for the final margin.
The Komets are now 3-14-2 in their last 19 games at the Huntington Center.
“There’s no doubt we’ve struggled here [recently],” Fort Wayne coach Gary Graham said. “Ever since [former coach] Derek Lalonde came in, he and [Watson] have really had our number at this rink. But we came in here wanting to make them 7-1 at home.”
It was the second start at home for Walleye rookie goalie Matej Machovsky (2-3-1), who gave up three goals on five straight shots late in the third. He finished with 23 saves on 27 shots.
The teams were tied at 1 after two periods and the shots also were even at 18 apiece. But Fort Wayne then scored on four of 10 shots in the third period.
“Once we got the lead, our confidence grew,” Graham said. “After we had a slow start, we got better as the game went on. We got the momentum back pretty quickly when we tied it up. From there we made some good plays and got to their goaltender and they have two great goalies.”
The arch-rivals have met five times this season, and Toledo is 1-3-1 against the Komets. The Walleye’s lone win came in the team’s other morning contest (6-3 on Nov. 16).
“We have so much respect for Toledo,” Graham said. “If you give them chances, they make you pay. Both teams were very aware of each other’s talent and defended well. Whenever we play these guys, it’s a constant chess match. It comes down to which players step up.”
Borkowski, who now has 20 points in 20 games with nine goals and 11 assists, was called up to Grand Raids of the American Hockey League after the game. Borkowski scored off of a rebound shot in the third period. Defenseman Ryan Obuchowski, who finished with two assists, had the initial shot from the point with Connor Crisp screening in front. Borkowski then bopped in the rebound.
“I’m just trying to do the little things right, and I’m playing with some really good players,” Borkowski said. “I want to do everything I can to help the team win. We knew about [the home streak]. But you’re going to eventually to drop a game with a 72-game season. We just played a bad 20 minutes of hockey.”
Toledo struck first with a power-play goal on a terrific play from Zach Nastasiuk to Borkowski. Nastasiuk set up Borkowski with a fantastic saucer pass across the top of the crease and over the top of a Komet defenseman’s stick. Borkowski then one-timed it home for the early 1-0 cushion. The puck zipped up over Fort Wayne goalie Matt Houser’s left shoulder, struck the crossbar, and went down in the net. Houser finished with 29 saves on 31 shots.
“We hit the seam there, and it was good to see the execution there,” Borkowski said.
However, the Komets tied it at 1 on a one-timer from Thompson with 6:40 left in the second. Fort Wayne scored directly off of a faceoff win by Mason Baptista, who got the puck to Cody Sol. Sol then got the puck back to Thompson.
“They are an opportunistic team, and that can make for some interesting hockey when we’re not sharp,” Borkowski said. “You can’t give them an edge. They have guys that can score. We can’t take a shift off against them.”
Machovsky went side to side to stop a point-blank shot by Artur Tyanulin with 8:42 left in the opening period. Machovsky then stopped Gabriel Desjardins on a breakaway with 4:54 left in the second.
Toledo is in the midst of a four-game homestand. The Walleye host Tulsa on Friday and Wheeling on Saturday.
“We knew they would make a push,” Watson said. “We lost coverage and gave them that second goal. That gave them momentum, and we couldn’t stop it. They’ve got guys who can score. They have finishers. It’s disappointing because I like to make teams earn it, and we had some missed coverages. They didn’t really earn those goals. It’s on us, and we have to correct that quickly.”
FISH TALES: Walleye D Vili Saarijarvi, who had a team-high five shots on goal, also was called up to Grand Rapids after the game. Saarijarvi has played in 10 games for Toledo and has six points (2 G, 4 A). ... Walleye D Simon Denis was back in the lineup for the first time in over a month. Denis, who has been out with an upper body injury, last played on Nov. 4. The second-year defenseman has four points with two goals and two assists in nine games. He finished with two shots.
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