Head coach Travis Green made a statement, and Brendan Gaunce responded.
Scratched from the Utica lineup in Games 3 and 4, the rookie Gaunce scored a pair of second-period goals in Game 5 to propel the Comets into the second round with a 4-2 victory over the Chicago Wolves in front of another capacity crowd at the Utica Memorial Auditorium on Saturday night.
Utica will meet either Oklahoma City or Toronto in the Western Conference semifinals.
After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for five goals in the second. Utica needed just 18 seconds to take the lead at the start of the second period as Brandon DeFazio netted his first career AHL playoff goal and point.
Chicago tied it up on the second half of a four-minute power play less than seven minutes later as Magnus Paajarvi notched his third goal of the series.
The Comets reclaimed the lead on Gaunce’s power-play goal with 7:24 to go in the second, but Joel Edmundson answered for the Wolves just 30 seconds with a shot through traffic that beat Jacob Markstrom.
Gaunce, Vancouver’s first-round pick (26th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, then picked up his second power-play goal of the period at 15:07 to give the Comets a 3-2 edge.
Utica allowed just five shots on goal in the third period, and iced the game when Sven Baertschi scored into an empty net at 19:16.
Markstrom (3-2) made 17 saves, defeating the Wolves in a winner-take-all Game 5 for the second time in his career.
Jordan Binnington (2-3) stopped 27 of 30 shots for Chicago.
Western Conference Quarterfinals – Series “E” (best-of-5)
1-Utica Comets vs. 8-Chicago Wolves
Game 1 – Wed., Apr. 22 – Utica 3, CHICAGO 2 (2OT)
Game 2 – Fri., Apr. 24 – CHICAGO 2, Utica 1
Game 3 – Wed., Apr. 29 – UTICA 2, Chicago 1 (OT)
Game 4 – Fri., May 1 – Chicago 4, UTICA 3 (OT)
Game 5 – Sat., May 2 – UTICA 4, Chicago 2