FORT WAYNE, Ind. — The Fort Wayne Komets are flexing their muscle.
A series that many expected to be tight from start to finish has instead been controlled by the Komets, who beat the Quad-City Mallards 3-1 to grab a 2-0 series lead Saturday night at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.
The Mallards look to turn the series around at home Wednesday night at the iWireless Center.
"Hopefully the salt in the wound hurts. Guys will look in the mirror and have a better effort," head coach Phil Axtell said. "We've got to come back to our rink and play harder than they do. Harder and smarter than they do."
A night after getting outshot 37-13, the Mallards once again struggled to put pressure on the Komets, getting outshot 37-18, and falling behind from the start.
Mike Cazzola scored his second goal of the playoffs at the 8-minute, 1-second mark of the first period, burying a feed from Mike Embach, then Embach scored at 17:03 to give the Komets a 2-1 lead.
Cazzola finished fourth in rookie of the year voting earlier this week and has been on a tear to close out the season. He now has eight goals and seven assists in his last nine games.
"One of the goals, we had a poor back check, we had two guys going to the same guy," Axtell said. "The other one, we didn't get a puck deep, they transitioned and they scored. Poor execution."
Jack Nevins scored at 19:24, burying the puck on the power play, looking to give the Mallards some momentum, much like Cazzola did in Game 1 with his late first-period goal that spurred the Komets to three straight to grab the win.
That momentum didn't carry over.
Instead, Jamie Schaafsma scored a power-play goal at 15:22, then the Komets went into shutdown mode, limiting the Quad-City chances the rest of the night.
The Mallards pulled goaltender C.J. Motte with nearly two minutes left in the third period but couldn't get anything past Pat Nagle, who made 17 saves on the night.
Motte once again was big for the Mallards, making 34 saves, but with the Quad-City offense once again limited, was saddled with the loss.
If the Mallards are to get back in the series, they know they have to start getting some pressure. Outshot 74-31 to start the series, another performance Wednesday could put their backs up against the wall.
The team hopes it can find some answers between now and then.
"We have to get shots, have to come up the ice as a group. Have to get out of our end. Have to win puck battles," Axtell said. "They're playing hard. They're winning puck battles. They're playing smarter. They're executing."