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Penalties were the major factor throughout the Eagles' three-game, home-opening series with the Flint Spirits.

As they had the first two games - Wednesday, when Flint won 6-5 in a double shootout with two power-play goals, and Friday, when the Eagles won 7-4 with four power-play goals, infractions dictated Saturday night's 5-1 Eagle victory.The Eagles were ahead 2-1, thanks to a Bryan Deasley power-play goal and a Tim Sweeney even-strength score, when Flint's Stephane Brochu hit Stu Grimson from behind for a high-sticking call.

One minute into the power play, Sweeney got his second goal of the game and second of the season on his second shot of the game.

Within 1:14 minutes, the Eagle lead jumped from 3-1 to 5-1.

Flint Coach Paul Theriault called it "an unnecessary penalty that gave them the power play at a key time."

"The big goal was Sweeney's on the power play," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis. "It picked us up and deflated them.

"It's a 2-1 game; you don't want to give unnecessary edge to the opposition," said Francis. "Even if you don't score, you take two minutes off the clock. It definitely disturbs the flow of your game.

"When we got that goal," said Eagle rookie defenseman Darryl Olsen, who had the primary assist on it, "it kind of burst their bubble."

Sweeney was making an effort to shoot more than in his first four games as a pro. Saturday he got the opportunities.

"I think that (third) one was bigger than the first, because at 2-1, it's anybody's game," said Sweeney. "The third one gave us a little sense of security, although not too much."

He said he could sense a difference in Flint's play after the penalty. "You can only give a team like ours so many power plays," he said, adding the Eagles couldn't afford to give Flint many because the Spirits have the best power play in the league so far.

The Eagles, in fact, gave Flint five power plays Saturday, but the penalties were for better reasons than in earlier games. "When we did take penalties," said Francis, "I like the way we took them - with some purpose. When you take a penalty with purpose, it's amazing the affect it has."

The Eagles killed four of the five.

Theriault said his team is young and still learning to win. "We've proven in three games we can compete, but now we have to take it the next step. That's the difficult part," he said.

The Eagles had the better scoring chances the first period, and Flint put pressure on goalie Steve Guenette in the second but only scored once to briefly tie the game 1-1 at 11:12. Sweeney's first came at 12:32. "We didn't get a break, and we didn't finish right, and Guenette made good saves," said Theriault.

Francis said the Eagles improved greatly over the three-game series, not only at disciplining themselves in penalties but also at their new defensive game plan of taking away the middle of the ice. It's different from last year's scheme, he said. "By doing that, you can apply quick pressure," he says.

The other Eagle goals were scored by Grimson, off a Marc Bureau backhanded pass into the slot, and by Rich Chernomaz, his eighth of the young season. Sweeney assisted that goal and led all scorers with three points.

EAGLE NOTES - The Spirits headed home to meet the Kalamazoo Wings in Flint tonight. The Eagles are off until Wednesday, when Wayne Thomas' Peoria Rivermen come in for a two-game set that finishes off the first Eagle homestand . . . Flint played for the second straight night without center Simon Wheeldon, its 110-point scorer from last season. He took a puck to the head Wednesday and was held out as a precautionary measure. He's should play tonight.