PORT HURON, Mich. -- The Fort Wayne Komets are redefining how to defend a championship.
The two-time International Hockey League champions keep finding ways to keep their season alive. Leo Thomas deflected a pass from Kevin Bertram with 2.1 seconds left to give the Komets a 4-3 win over the Port Huron IceHawks and force a Game 7 in Fort Wayne at 7 p.m. Monday. Tickets go on sale at Noon at the coliseum box office.
``It just shows the character in this room,'' Thomas said. ``We fought and fought. That was definitely the biggest game I've been a part of outside of winning the cup last year. Definitely the biggest goal I've scored.''
This is the third time in six years the Komets have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7, and the second time in three years they've done it against Port Huron. Both times the score was 4-3 in Game 6 at Port Huron.
The Komets led 1-0 after the first period on Thomas's wrist shot off a Guy Dupuis pass. Port Huron goaltender Larry Sterling, who has been battling concussion problems since Game 4, made seven saves in the first period, but could not continue into the second. He was replaced by rookie Raffaele D'Orso.
The IceHawks tied the score early in the second period on a power-play goal by Derek Patrosso on a 5-on-3 power play with Matt Syroczynski and Bertram sitting in the penalty box. The Komets took the lead again as Sean O'Connor drove the net to score on D'Orso 1-on-1.
The lead didn't last as the Komets again gave up a 5-on-3 advantage, this time with goaltender Nick Boucher getting called for hooking and Keith Rodger for roughing after he horse-collared Port Huron's Pete Rouleau. Jamie Lovell scored his third goal of the series.
After a nerve-wrackingly tight first 14 minutes of the third period, the tension kept increasing over the last six minutes. Colin Chaulk scored to give Fort Wayne a 3-2 lead with 5:21 left, but the IceHawks' Mike Kinnie beat Bertram around the back of the Komets' net with 4:13 left to tie it.
The Komets had a couple of chances in the final three minutes before Bertram turned and fired from the blue line to set up Thomas. Was the defenseman, shooting, passing or just throwing it at the net?
``It was a little bit of all of that,'' Bertram said. ``P.C. (Drouin) gave it to me when I was curling back to the blueline, and I knew there was about five seconds left, so I spun and threw it up there and I hit Leo's tape. I didn't know he was back there when I turned, but I was trying to get one last chance, and it wasn't like I knew he was there beforehand.''
The Port Huron power play goals almost ruined a spectacular defensive effort by the Komets who controlled the neutral zone and kept the IceHawks to one goal 5-on-5. Port Huron had the better scoring chances all night as the Komets rarely drove the net or came close to getting to a rebound. Boucher was spectacular all night, keeping his teammates in the game, making 31 saves and providing a wall in front of the Fort Wayne net.
``I think we just thought if we kept playing the same way, we'd get the fourth one,'' Komets coach Al Sims said. ``We had led the whole game by one and we always found a way to get ahead by one. I didn't think it would end with two seconds to go, but we'll take it. We found a way to get it done.''