KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Kansas City Comets needed one win in their last three regular-season games to return to postseason action, so coach Kim Roentved challenged his team.
“I told the boys, ‘Let’s get it done (Friday) – and, well, I guess they listened,” quipped Roentved, as goalkeeper Mark Saxby anchored a defense that held the host Orlando SeaWolves to just three second-half goals despite playing at a sixth-attacker disadvantage much of the fourth quarter in a 7-6 victory that clinched that playoff spot.
The Comets (12-10), after their April 14 regular-season finale at Milwaukee, will play host to the first-place Wave in the playoffs at 7:35 p.m. April 18 at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena. Ticket information will be released soon.
Kevin Ellis led the offense Friday with two goals and an assist, and Ignacio “Nacho” Flores scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal at 5:32 of the fourth quarter.
“It is wonderful to be back in the playoffs after missing last year,” Roentved said by phone after the Comets reached the postseason for the eighth time in their nine seasons. “I know one thing, if somehow we could play an entire game like we have played the third quarter the past two games, we would be unbeatable.”
The Comets scored the first four goals of the third quarter last Saturday in an 11-7 win over St. Louis and broke a 3-3 tie Friday night with a 3-0 third quarter.
“It is nothing I say at the half. We have just come out and played great soccer in the third period the last two games and I hope it continues,” Roentved added.
The Comets started the game with high pressure on Orlando’s back line. It created some early offensive chances for Kansas City, but left some risky gaps in the defense.
Leo Gibson scored the Comets’ first goal off an assist from Saxby. It was the goalie’s third assist of the season.
The Comets’ high pressure came back to bite them two minutes later as Derek Huffman found himself facing Saxby one-on-one and his goal evened it 1-1.
The Comets were able to add a second goal before the quarter ended as Robert Palmer snuck in from the backside to receive a pass from Kiel Williams. As he surveyed the field, Lucas Rodriguez made a run to the net. Palmer put a pinpoint pass through traffic and Rodriguez simply had to redirect it over the goalkeeper for the goal.
Orlando struck quick to start the second quarter as Joshio Sandoval blasted a shot into the top corner to tie it at 2-2. The SeaWolves tried to add another quick goal, but Comets defender Mirko Sandivari – playing behind Saxby – denied Derek Huffman’s point blank shot.
Kansas City defender John Sosa then passed across the field to Ellis, who found Ramone Palmer patiently sitting next to the goal for the easy tap in midway through the second half.
Gordy Gurson slipped one past the Comets so the lead did not last long. It was Gurson’s 30th goal this season.
Kansas City started the second half with a man disadvantage due to a blue card late in the first half. The Comets’ 58 percent penalty kill was put on display as the SeaWolves did not come close to scoring.
Kansas City’s Anthony Grant and Ellis scored back-to-back goals, and suddenly it was 5-3.
Ellis finished off the third quarter with a power-play goal, adding to the team’s league-best .667 power play percentage.
The SeaWolves, though, put together a fourth-quarter rally. Osvaldo Rojas brought Orlando back within 6-4 less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
Flored scored at 5:32 and it turned out to be the game winner – and the last Comets’ goal on the night.
With the sixth attacker advantage, Gurson netted his second goal of the night.
The Comets were then given a blue card, and the SeaWolves pulled their goalie, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage. But they could not score a goal, much to the delight of Saxby.
“Our defense was amazing tonight,” Saxby said by phone. “Our defense starts with our forwards and then comes all the way back to the goal, and everyone just gave it their all tonight. It was so amazing to be a part of a game like this.”
Orlando’s final tally was credited to Mario Alvarez, although it was an own goal off a Comets player. But it happened with just six seconds left.
“A close win and a very satisfying win,” said Gibson, who had a goal and assist. “It feels so good to make it back to the playoffs.”
The Comets play at 6:05 p.m. (CDT) Saturday against the Florida Tropics in Lakeland, Fla., in a game that has lost all its playoff implications.
“We have so many players who are banged up, we might give some of them some time off,” Roentved said. “We want to win, but we want to be healthy when the playoffs start two weeks against Milwaukee.”