Still woozy from a holiday-travel hassle that got them home 10-12 hours late the night before, the Golden Eagles admitted they needed a stimulant Thursday night in the Delta Center.
They got a one-two punch of a wakeup call, with both waves coming in the third period to fuel a three-goal spurt and give 18-16-3 Salt Lake a 5-2 victory over the 22-12-2 Atlanta Knights.The Eagles have now won four of their five games against the IHL's Eastern Conference leader, and they meet again in the Delta Center Saturday night.
Thursday's first period was a 2-2 tie; the second was a 0-0 tie with Atlanta having the edge in play, outshooting Salt Lake 14-7.
Forty-eight seconds into the third, Atlanta's Shayne Stevenson received an instigator/game misconduct penalty for dropping the gloves first in a fight with Sandy McCarthy, who turned the tables to win the fight. Defenseman Kris Miller, who joined the Eagles Sunday, scored a slap shot :26 into the power play to give Salt Lake a 3-2 edge.
Atlanta coach Gene Ubriaco complained Stevenson was challenged by McCarthy and shouldn't have gotten the instigator penalty. "That killed us. It fired Salt Lake up, they got the goal, and they played very well once they got the lead," he said.
Eagle coach Bob Francis noted the Knights also got an instigating call that hurt them in Atlanta against the Eagles and said they've had others. "They're always getting the instigator," he said to justify the power play.
No question it helped the Eagles. "Oh, yeah," said defenseman Kevin Wortman, who led scorers with three points. "He came after McCarthy, and McCarthy turned the fight right around. It gave us a boost. Gave us momentum."
Eagle Rich Chernomaz also pointed to the fight as the game's turning point.
Nine minutes into the third period, the Eagles got another call to arms when the attendance was announced - 11,033, second-best for hockey in DC history.
"We get two bang-bang goals as soon as they announce the attendance," said Chernomaz, scorer of the one that made it 4-2 at 9:02. Wortman got the last one at 15:01.
Chernomaz said the announcement didn't cause the goals, "but it makes a difference when you get that many people in the building," he said. The crowd was in part due to the New Year's Eve skating/dance party and countdown to midnight that followed the game.
Ubriaco was upset at Chernomaz's goal, too, saying ex-Eagle Martin Simard was injured (McCarthy again) and tried to skate off the ice, leaving Atlanta with four players. A Wortman shot popped through the pads of Knight goalie David Littman, and Chernomaz backhanded it into an empty net. Ubriaco wanted the play blown dead because of Simard's injury. "Once they took the shot, he (referee Mike Leggo) had a chance to blow the whistle," Ubriaco said.
"If Martin would have just laid there on the ice, I'm sure he probably would have blown it, but because he got up and went to the bench, he's not going to blow it," said Chernomaz.
Arguments aside, the Eagles used the stimuli to get back to their game, which, against Atlanta, is to cycle the puck in the corners. Instead of passing it around, they keep dumping it to a corner with players rotating back to that area. "That's how we get somebody open," says Chernomaz.
It works on Atlanta, said Francis, because the Knights' strengths are at breaking up plays near the blue line and hurtling the puck forward once they regain possession. "So you'd better get it deep," Francis says.