Either way tonight, it's bye-bye Birdie. It's just that one way - a win - and the Eagles get to keep playing, even if they do have to fly bye-bye to Muskegon for Game 6 on Saturday. The other way - a loss - and it's bye-bye for the season; what is probably the most talented Eagle team ever won't have proved it.
It's definitely the last hockey game of the 1988-89 campaign in the Salt Palace tonight as the Golden Eagles, a team that has won 65 games this season, takes on Muskegon, a team that has won 68.Muskegon can win the Turner Cup tonight, leading the best-of-seven series 3-1 in games. The Eagles, obviously, must win three straight including tonight and twice in Muskegon, where they haven't won this season, to retain the cup the franchise has held for the past two years.
"I'd like to think a team that found a way to win 65 games has learned how to excel in tight situations," says Eagle Coach Paul Baxter. "The one constant over the past two years is that this team has always risen to the challenge."
"It's over," says Muskegon forward Richard Zemlak, who didn't predict a win tonight but finds it hard to believe Salt Lake could win three straight against the Lumberjacks. Zemlak is a former Eagle from the St. Louis Blues' era.
"It's hard to tell what's going through their minds," says Muskegon Coach Blair MacDonald, who's far more cautious, looking to the 15-game win streak Salt Lake had six weeks ago.
MacDonald coached Fredericton of the American League to the Calder Cup finals and lost last season. "It's something you remember and look back on what you could have done," MacDonald recalls.
He also notes that the Eagles have won two straight Turner Cups. "They're a championship club, and they know what it takes to sacrifice and play as hard as they can," he says.
For the record, an Eagle team hasn't lost a championship series in 10 years, since Dallas beat Salt Lake in five games for the Central League Adams Cup in 1978-79. Salt Lake is 5 for 7 in championship-series wins, winning cups in 1975, 1979, 1980, 1987 and 1988. The only other loss in a final series was to Phoenix in the Western League in 1973.
Muskegon has outscored the Eagles 19-8 in the four games so far, but nobody considers that a true indicator of how close the games have been. MacDonald says, "It went down to the last five minutes in every game." Well, all except the 8-1 Muskegon win last Friday night. The Eagles won 5-2 on Saturday, then lost 5-2 Wednesday.
The Lumberjacks have dominated special-teams play in this series, with six power-play goals in 22 attempts while holding the Eagles to 1 for 20. Yet MacDonald doesn't consider that the decisive point so far. "There hasn't been any one factor," he says.
He says his penalty killing has been good, but, "What we're trying to do is stay out of the penalty box and play 5 on 5 as much as we can."
Baxter and Eagle captain Rich Chernomaz look to their power-play drought as something serious. "That's one area we haven't excelled in, and it's a crucial one," says Baxter.
"I don't think we're being patient enough, and we're not penetrating to the net," says Chernomaz.
The Eagles took retaliatory penalties that hurt them Wednesday, but whenever Muskegon has retaliated throughout the series, the Eagles haven't been able to make it count.
One Eagle player who took a poor penalty Wednesday was banished to the dressing room by his coach. Baxter wouldn't say Thursday if he'd make any lineup changes.