BLOOMINGTON — Jason Christie was the last man standing on the Bloomington PrairieThunder bench Sunday night.
The first-year coach was taking a long and painful look at the Fort Wayne Komets celebrating a 3-1 victory to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 Turner Conference quarterfinal series at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
“You always hate to lose, but the way we’re losing …” Christie said. “Our backs are against the wall now.”
The PrairieThunder’s first playoff showing has been simply awful.
Costly penalties, anemic special teams and a lack of grit have Bloomington on the brink of being swept as Fort Wayne can close out the series in Game 3 at home Wednesday.
Of the Komets’ eight goals, five have been on the power play, along with two empty-netters and one short-handed.
“Our special teams have been brutal,” captain Jason Deleurme said. “Our (penalty kill) is junk and our power play is equally as bad.”
The PrairieThunder was a quality penalty-killing club during the regular season, but that team didn’t show up this weekend. Meanwhile, the power play has just five goals in its last 51 chances.
“We have to learn to play playoff hockey,” Deleurme said. “Those little battles all over the ice, paying the price and taking a hit to make a play. That’ll be the difference between us winning and losing on Wednesday.”
Meanwhile, Fort Wayne’s Mathieu Curadeau has come alive this weekend. He scored the game-winner in the third period in spectacular fashion. Curadeau got one past rookie goaltender Brad Phillips (23 saves) from 20 feet out while on one skate and falling to the ice with Deleurme draping him.
Curadeau had a career-worst minus-20 rating during the regular season, but he’s had three goals and three assists in the first two games of this series.
“Matty has been looking forward to this,” Fort Wayne Coach Al Sims said. “It’s good for him to get a fresh start. He’s really come through huge in these two games.”
So has Komets goaltender Nick Boucher. He made 29 saves Sunday after winning Game 1 with 35 stops on Saturday.
“I don’t think you can get better goaltending than what Boucher has given us,” Sims said.
Down 1-0 after a sluggish first period, the PrairieThunder found its stride with its best period of the playoffs in the second as forward Travis Granbois breathed life into his team with game-tying goal with assists from Jason Dale and Aaron Dawson.
“After the second period, we came in (the locker room) like we had lost the game,” Sims said.
The PrairieThunder was feeling it, too.
“We had them on their heels a little bit, but they come out right away in the third and take the air out of our sails,” Christie said.
Curadeau’s goal came in the first minute of the third.
“That just deflated us,” Granbois said. “We couldn’t get it back after that.”
Dale’s holding penalty in the first period set up a power-play goal for Leo Thomas to give the Komets a 1-0 lead at 8:35. The PrairieThunder failed on two man-advantages during the first 20 minutes that greatly resembled Saturday’s performance.
The Komets have done a number of the PrairieThunder’s top six scorers. Granbois and Deleurme are the only two with playoff goals.
“You just wish we were getting a little more out of some guys,” Christie said. “Top players have to be top players. That’s the difference right now.”
FORT WAYNE 3, BLOOMINGTON 1
At U.S. Cellular Coliseum
Fort Wayne 1 0 2 - 3
Bloomington 0 1 0 - 1
First period - Fort Wayne, Thomas (Curadeau, Podshendyalov), 8:35 (pp).
Second period - Bloomington, Granbois (Dale, Dawson), 16:25.
Third period - Fort Wayne, Curadeau (DeAngelis, Boucher), :54 (pp); Fort Wayne, LaPointe (Lardner), 19:58 (en).
Shots on goal - Fort Wayne 9-5-12-26; Bloomington 7-14-9-30.
Penalties-minutes - Fort Wayne 7-14; Bloomington 5-10.
Goalies - Fort Wayne - Boucher (30 shots, 29 saves, 60:00); Bloomington - Phillips (25 shots, 23 saves, 58:07)
Power play opportunities - Fort Wayne 2 of 3; Bloomington 0 of 5.
Attendance - 1,446.
Referee - McIsaac; Linesmen - Shaw, Piche.