FORT WAYNE, In.– After a grueling 10-game season series, the Fort Wayne Komets and Wheeling Nailers begin a best-of-7 game series in the ECHL Central Division Semifinals. This is the first all-time meeting in the postseason for these two historic clubs.
For the Komets, the defense of the Kelly Cup begins tonight. Fort Wayne has made the postseason in each of the last eight seasons, and won the 2021 Kelly Cup in four games over the South Carolina Stingrays.
Wheeling returns to the playoffs after missing the postseason in each of the last five seasons. The last time Wheeling was in the postseason, current head coach Derek Army was an alternate captain on the team. The Nailers made it to the 2016 Kelly Cup finals where they lost to the Allen Americans in six games.
Final Regular Season Records:
Fort Wayne Komets: 40-25-6-1, 87 points (2nd Central Division, 2nd Western Conference)
Wheeling Nailers: 37-31-4-0, 78 points (3rd Central Division, 7th Western Conference)
Series Schedule (Home team in CAPS and all times local):
Game 1 – Friday, April 22 – Wheeling at FORT WAYNE – 8:00 pm ET
Game 2 – Saturday, April 23 – Wheeling at FORT WAYNE – 7:30 pm ET
Game 3 – Wednesday, April 27 – Fort Wayne at WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET
Game 4 – Friday, April 29 – Fort Wayne at WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET
Game 5 – Saturday, April 30 – Fort Wayne at WHEELING – 7:10 pm ET (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Monday, May 2 – Wheeling at FORT WAYNE – 7:30 pm ET (If Necessary)
Game 7 – Tuesday, May 3 – Wheeling at FORT WAYNE – 7:30 pm ET (If Necessary)
Season Series Recap:
Fort Wayne won the season series with a record of 7-1-2-0.
Fort Wayne’s top offensive player against the Nailers was Kellen Jones, who tallied two goals and eight assists in eight contests versus Wheeling. Another player to watch is All-ECHL First Teamer Will Graber, who led the league in scoring with 26 goals and 57 assists, for 83 points overall. Komets captain Anthony Petruzzelli was one of the few players in all ten meetings of the season series, totaling five points in the contests.
In net for the Komets will likely be Samuel Harvey, who was unscathed against the Nailers in the regular season, going 6-0-0-0 record, with a 1.50 GAA and a .955 save percentage.
Wheeling’s top offensive player against the Komets was defenseman Josh Maniscalco, who recorded four goals and four assists for eight points in the eight games he played in the series. Second on the list, with three goals and four assists in the nine games played, was All-ECHL First Teamer Patrick Watling. No Nailer player played in all ten games of the season series.
Former Komet Louis-Philip Guindon will be the Nailers starting netminder. In the regular season series, he had a 2-2-0 record with a 2.77 GAA and a .906 save percentage in five appearances against his former club this year.
How Fort Wayne Wins:
For Fort Wayne to win this series, they will look to their defense to shut down the Wheeling offense. The Komets already have the offense to compete for a title, but their defense has been known to suffer lapses during games, which has cost them during the season. An alarming statistic for the Komets is their record in one-goal contests, at just 11-12-6-1. Meanwhile, the Nailers have a 16-9-4-0 record in the same area. It will be important for Fort Wayne to score quickly and build a lead in this series if their defense can’t reduce their mistakes from lapses throughout contests. In addition to that, Wheeling won both overtime meetings during the regular season, another concern for the Komets. Luckily for Fort Wayne, they have fared pretty well recently against the Nailers, only sustaining one goal against the Nailers in their two meetings last week. As long as Fort Wayne can get a lead on Wheeling and hold up with their defense, the Komets should be in good shape.
How Wheeling Wins:
For Wheeling to win this series, they will have to slay a demon. “The Jungle,” has been a house of horrors for the Nailers, going 4-21-1-0 in the last five years at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The Nailers must win at least one game in Fort Wayne to win this series.
Also, Wheeling will have to defeat Harvey, who was unblemished against the Nailers during the regular season. The Nailers must play “their game,” get the pucks and traffic to the net against Harvey. Wheeling will also have to be solid in all zones and play disciplined hockey. The Komets have too many weapons for the Nailers to get into penalty trouble. The Komets converted on a 14.7% (5-for-34) with the man-advantage against the Nailers. While on the power play, Wheeling must play well enough to keep from giving up shorthanded goals which was a bit of a problem in the regular season as the black and Vegas gold allowed 15 shorthanded goals against. The Nailers man-advantage converted on six of 48 chances against the Komets for a 12.5% success rate.
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