Fort Wayne won the first two games of the Central Hockey League finals just hours after a long bus ride and days after finishing a hard-earned win in Game 7 of the Turner Conference finals.
The Thunder hopes similar results can occur after a lengthy trip of its own.
Wichita lost its first and only two home games of the postseason to the Komets, being outscored 11-6. Going on the road for the next three games would seem to indicate that the Thunder has little chance of getting the series back to Wichita, but getting away could actually serve to alleviate some pressure and help the Thunder calm down.
Game 3 is Thursday night in Fort Wayne, with Game 4 to follow on Saturday and Game 5, if necessary, on Monday.
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"I think it’s a good thing we go on the road here for three games," Thunder captain Daniel Tetrault said. "We’ll be together as a team on the bus and in the hotel. We’ll regroup as a team and refocus. It’s not over — they have to win two more."
Playing away from home is only a start to solving the Thunder’s problems. The team with the CHL’s best regular-season record, which won its first two playoff series with relative ease, has been made to look ordinary by Fort Wayne.
The Komets had one day off between series but apparently used it to learn all of Wichita’s strengths and weaknesses and pick them apart. As a result, Wichita has looked like the worn-out team and Fort Wayne has appeared fresh despite a grueling travel schedule.
While Wichita’s preferred style is to play physically and intimidate opponents, the Thunder is adaptable and can excel at any pace. It became clear early in Game 1 that Fort Wayne wasn’t going to be intimidated, and the Thunder hasn’t been able to match the Komets’ finesse.
"(Sunday) was a stinker," Tetrault said. "They outplayed us, outworked us."
The Thunder will have had three off days to plan a new scheme, but it can’t include allowing for a Fort Wayne letdown.
It happened in Game 1, when the Komets jumped to a 3-1 lead but allowed two goals by Thomas Beauregard that tied it before Fort Wayne dominated the third. Fort Wayne’s Colin Chaulk said the team is at its worst when playing with too much confidence, so the Komets altered its approach for Game 2.
Fort Wayne stayed aggressive even with a big lead and became worried when Wichita scored to make it 6-3 with less than three minutes to go.
"On the bench, I’m nervous because these guys can score two or three goals in two minutes," Chaulk said. "We can’t allow those opportunities. We need to get in shooting lanes, block shots, ship pucks out and keep the pressure on."
The Komets’ assertiveness caught Wichita off guard in Game 1 and the Thunder couldn’t recover less than 24 hours later. No previous opponent has forced Wichita into almost wholesale adjustments, but that’s probably what the Thunder needs to rally.
Rest may finally slow down the Komets and a long trip could bring the Thunder together. Wichita’s problems have been on the ice, but a rebuild of team chemistry could be the start toward solving them.
"It’s always hard to come back," Tetrault said. "You try harder, and sometimes when you do that you make more mistakes. We’ve got to find a way to come together as a group."