Frustrations boiled over Sunday night for the Quad-City Mallards.
After flared tempers led to Fort Wayne's go-ahead goal, Triston Grant one-punched Justin MacDonald prior to the ensuing face-off.
The Mallards lost 4-3 to the Komets, giving up three goals in the third period in the loss.
Grant was given a match penalty for fighting but head coach Phil Axtell went to bat for his captain, despite the altercation drawing plenty of ire from the Fort Wayne bench.
"Their player was on our side of the red line before the puck even dropped," Axtell said. "They didn't blow the whistle, they didn't kick him out, they didn't stop it and apparently he was asking Triston to fight and then he stopped but it was too late, I guess."
It did appear that MacDonald was asking Grant to fight but didn't end up dropping the gloves, while Grant caught him clean on the first punch.
This was Grant's first game back after serving a five-game suspension and he was hit with 18 minutes of penalties.
"It's really frustrating. I feel Triston has an X on his back," Axtell said. "It is what it is, you're not going to change anyone's mind and you have to play through it."
The Komets came back in the third period, with Dennis Kravchenko scoring to cut the score to 3-2 at the 4-minute, 48-second mark of the period. Gabriel Desjardins tied the game at 6:56, getting his stick on a pass from Bobby Shea, who finished with a goal and an assist.
With time winding down in the third period, Fort Wayne's Curtis Leonard and Quad-City's Jamie Tardif got into an exchange away from the puck. Mallards defenseman Greg Amlong came in to defend Tardif and though the linesman was involved trying to separate the trio, no whistle was blown.
Meanwhile, Kravchenko sprung Garrett Thompson for a breakaway goal to put Fort Wayne up 4-3 at 12:41.
"At the end of the day, that starts with me. I made a play, I don't normally do that and (Leonard) came at me and Greg is just a great teammate," Tardif said. "At that point in the game, I've got to suck it up, stay the course and keep playing hockey."
Axtell felt the whistle should have been blown before the goal, as well as Grant's punch of MacDonald that came right after.
"When the game gets out of control and the appropriate measures aren't taken to keep the game in control, that's what happens," he said.
Before the third period, the Mallards gave Fort Wayne all it could handle. Gergo Nagy put the team up 1-0 at 2:31 in the first period, then Matt Pohlkamp doubled the lead at 3:27.
Shea put the Komets on the board at 18:02 in the first period to send the Mallards into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead.
Tardif made it 3-1 with his 10th goal of the season at 10:38 in the second period. Kravchenko looked like he had cut the lead to 3-2 when he buried a breakaway shortly after but was ruled for goaltender interference on Ivan Kulbakov, who made 30 saves in the game.
The loss closes out the season series with Fort Wayne, whom the Mallards went 1-7-1 against this season.
This game was perhaps the most competitive of the series, which makes the loss hurt that much more.
"It's extremely frustrating. The second goal, we had four guys in the zone, they had three guys in the zone, goal. Their third goal, after a TV timeout, we don't get the right D-pair out, we don't get the right matchup out on the ice, goal," Axtell said. "It's really frustrating when you have one of the top teams in the league (down) 3-1 going into the third and we sit back and watch."
Prior to the game, the Mallards traded Tristan King to the Allen Americans, completing the deal that brought Connor Reilly to the Mallards on Saturday. King had 15 goals and 18 assists in 42 games with the Mallards.