For the first time ever in the history of Utica, N.Y. an American Hockey League team has advanced to the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs after defeating and eliminating the Chicago Wolves 4-2 and in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals Friday night at The Utica Memorial Auditorium.
Brendan Gaunce (2-0-2) lit the lamp twice on the power play after being the healthy scratch for games three and four. Cal O’Reilly (0-3-3) continued to do what he does best by tallying three assists including one on the power play game-winning goal.
(1-0-1) and Sven Baertschi (1-1-2) also found the back of the net that enabled them to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Utica dominated in the shots department through the first period but their efforts didn’t see results until the opening seconds of period number two. Just prior to switching from a 4-on-4 to a 5-on-4 penalty kill, the Comets found their first of the game just 18 seconds in after DeFazio hopped through a couple defenders on a solo effort. DeFazio quickly brought the puck from his backhand to his forehand and lifted it to the top shelf just inside the crease to make it a one nothing game.
Just short of seven minutes later the Wolves answered back on the second half of a double minor taken by Alex Friesen for high-sticking. Magnus Paajarvi positioned himself in the right as he buried a shot that was fed to him by Shane Harper. The Wolves power-play goal that tied the game 1-1 was Paajarvi’s third of the series.
At 11:12 the Comets took their turn on the power play and after a couple of failed attempts, one last shot was in order as Brendan Gaunce raced in down the left wing and slapped one into the white netting for the power-play goal and the 2-1 lead at 12:36. Alex Friesen was credited with the primary assist.
The Comets didn’t have much time to celebrate as the Wolves scored exactly 30 seconds later on a slapshot from Joel Edmundson that snuck through Markstrom and all of the traffic he was battling in front of the crease. Shane Harper assisted for the second time in the game on the Wolves equalizer.
Gaunce decided he hadn’t finished producing for the night because just over two minutes later the rookie forward scored his second power-play goal of the night after Baertschi’s shot left a rebound in front of the net.
The 3-2 lead was enough to hold the Wolves off and the Comets sealed the deal at 19:16 after Baertschi spiked it towards the mesh for the empty-net goal and the 4-2 lead. Cal O’Reilly tallied the primary assist for his third of the game and Bobby Sanguinetti also had his hands in on the play for his second of the game.
Now that the Comets have secured a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, their match-up is still to be determined. As of right now, the Comets could either face the Toronto Marlies or the Oklahoma City Barons depending on the turnout of the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Marlies series that’s taking place this Sunday afternoon.