If the Golden Eagles have exhibited a favorable trait this young hockey season, it is that they never quit. They may not always finish their shots after creating superb chances; they may not always make the defensive plays; they may not get sharp goaltending on every shot. Every game, a mistake or two in each area dooms them. But always, they come back harder. That is why three of their nine games have gone to shootouts, why seven of their games have been decided by one or two goals.
And that is why the Eagles finally got their first Delta-Center victory Wednesday night, 5-4 in a shootout.Twice they were down by two against the Milwaukee Admirals, whose 5-1-1 record coming into the game was mirror-image of the Eagles' 1-6-1. Against the Admirals, who have some of the IHL's best firepower, defense and goaltending.
The Admirals got comfortable with their lead; the Eagles kept churning.
"They learned a valuable lesson tonight," surmised Eagle coach Dave Farrish about the veteran Admirals. "They relaxed too much and tried to hold onto the lead.
"It showed a lot about our grit and desire," Farrish added.
On the bench, as the Eags inched toward the win, "I was trying to convey the message that this is what could turn it around for us," said Farrish, whose young club moved to 2-6-1.
Milwaukee took a 4-2 lead early in the third period with Alex Galchenyuk's second power-play goal of the game at :52, but Eagle Zigmund Palffy stayed with his own rebound on a tremendous breakaway and threw his second attempt into the net 8:10 into the period.
After the Eagles killed 1 1/2 minutes of a 5-on-3 Admiral power play - the kind of thing that often gives a team a big lift - Eagle captain Chris Luongo shot the puck cross-ice into the left-wing corner, where Scott Scissons and Palffy touched it before Brent Grieve got it behind the goal line, went behind the net and zipped in a wraparound, completely untouched, to tie the game at 4-4 with just :50 left in regulation.
"It's a difficult play to defend," said Farrish, "and he had a good head of steam, but I was surprised there was nobody (defensively) at that post. There wasn't anybody near him."
"I knew the play," said Eagle goalie Jamie McLennan, who got his first win in a Salt Lake uniform. He was trying to get off the ice at the time for an extra attacker; Grieve scored before he could reach the bench. "He drives the net so well," McLennan said about Grieve, "and he's so strong and has such a good, long reach, he's able to jam it in."
Twenty-six seconds later, Eagle Joe Day received a high-sticking major/game misconduct (ejection). Thanks to the rule change in the "I" this season - no sudden-death overtime, just a shootout in regular-season games - the Eagles only had to kill the penalty for :24 before getting to the shootout, where the penalty had no bearing.
McLennan made the first stop in the shootout, and Mason halted Grieve. "We've developed a little confidence in the shootout," McLennan said, noting that he and many teammates came from the AHL, where there's no such thing. This was their third career shootout. "It's an abrupt end to the game," he said.
The next two shooters for each team - Milwaukee's Brian Dobbin and Sylvain Couturier and Salt Lake's Sandy Smith and Palffy - scored. McLennan lunged early at the next man, Galchenyuk, to poke the puck away before the Russian could shoot. Eagle Chris Taylor scored, and McLennan stayed with Steve Tuttle to make him shoot over the net for the Eagle victory.
"Jamie seemed to really get his confidence in the shootout," said Farrish. "He made some great saves."
"I made the first save, and the next two outwaited me, so I just wanted to surprise (Galchenyuk)," said McLennan, explaining the unusual poke-check move.
"The big thing was to score at the other end," McLennan said, noting the Palffy and Grieve scores in regulation and the three in the shootout by Smith, Palffy and Taylor. "We're young," he added, "but we go right to the end."