The first period of hockey played Wednesday night in Fairgrounds Coliseum was one of the most intense that either the Eagles or the Ice have played this season. Even though it was scoreless, everybody agreed the Eagles had the edge.
"We really set the tempo, holding them to six shots," said Eagle captain Rich Chernomaz."I've never seen this year a hockey period as fast as the first 15 minutes. It was our best game so far," said Eagle winger Stephane Matteau, who carried his furious pace from Monday's Salt Palace game along on the plane ride Tuesday and still had it with him Wednesday night.
"We didn't get much justice out of it," observed Eagle Coach Bob Francis.
Former Eagle Mike Rucinski broke the ice 2:35 into the second period, sliding through the slot and picking a puck out of the air for an Indianapolis goal.
The Ice went on to a 5-0 lead and a 5-1 victory to take a two-games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven Turner Cup semifinal playoff series. Game 4 is Friday and Game 5 Saturday in Indianapolis.
Mike Eagles scored at 8:58 and Mike McNeill at 10:05 of the second for a 3-0 lead. "We got two quick ones, and that was the ballgame," said Ice Coach Darryl Sutter, who'd sweated out the first period along with Francis wondering who was going to convert a break first. Both teams created their own breaks, but the Ice couldn't beat Steve Guenette, and the Eagles couldn't solve Jimmy Waite.
"A lot of times in a game like that, the team that scores the first goal is the team that wins it," said Sutter. "It was real intense."
"What it did," said Francis of Rucinski's goal, "was create a tremendous change of momentum." The Eagles had just killed a penalty. They'd killed six minutes' worth of first-period penalties in textbook style, and killing another was doing good things for their morale. "You're ready to go at them, and suddenly they're coming at you," Francis said.
"They kept coming at us, and we didn't disrupt the flow."
The Eagles also didn't fall apart.
"It was just a lapse of five or 10 minutes that cost us the game," said Chernomaz, who considered it much closer than the score made it look.
It was a good game until the fight, said Sutter, alluding to a third-period altercation that wasn't that frantic but saw four players ejected and 92 minutes assessed. Ryan McGill hit Marc Bureau in the face as Bureau came up ice. Bureau did nothing as a penalty was called, but Matteau jumped in to protect his centerman, and a couple of skirmishes started.
In the first period, the Eagles immediately smothered any Iceman with the puck, giving the Ice its own medicine, and, while killing a four-minute Ice power play, the Eagles had more chances to score than Indianapolis, thanks to steals and a 2-on-0 Matteau/ Bureau short-handed breakin.
Bureau faked a shot but passed to Matteau, but the puck skipped and hit Matteau in the back of the skates to jinx that chance. That could have been the important first score, but it wasn't.
For Rucinski, the opening goal was a lifesaver. "About time," he said. "I finally got the monkey off my back." He hadn't goaled in the playoffs. "I haven't scored in a month," he said.
The first few goals were because of minor Eagle mistakes. "They do a good job beating you off the boards. The whole idea of defense is to stay inside and keep your man outside," said Francis. "Give them an inch, and it's in the net."
Ice veteran Bob Bassen was responsible for digging two pucks off the boards and making successful feeds out front on the second and third goals, and he had an assist on the fifth goal as well. He'd just come back from a stint with the Chicago Blackhawks; he played one NHL playoff game.
"This is my team down here, and it's nice to be back," said Bassen, who was credited by many with perking the Ice up with his presence.
"Bassen's a great leader," said Chernomaz, "and I'm sure a lot of their younger guys really feed off him. He motivates guys to play at the level he likes to play at."
Bassen refused the credit. He said he returned from Chicago to find a team full of players unhappy with the way they'd played the first two games in Salt Lake City. "Some games you set up guys and the puck doesn't get in; I was fortunate the guys made good shots," he said.
Jim Playfair and Mike Stapleton had the Ice's fourth and fifth goals in the first 1:21 of the third period, and Tim Sweeney scored from in close for the Eagles at 4:54 of the third.