Knowing that San Diego had played three games since Christmas while they'd had a nine-day layoff, the Golden Eagles were very much aware they'd need a strong start Thursday night as they got back into action in the Delta Center. They fidgeted more than usual on the bench during the national anthem. "They were pretty focused," said Eagle coach Dave Farrish.

And the Eagles, 11-20-2, who had won five of their last six games going into the holiday break, did get a good start but still lost, 3-1. Zigmund Palffy scored at 9:39 of the first period on a breakaway rebound after a pass from Derek Armstrong sprung him from near the red line. The puck knocked San Diego goalie Alan Bester over backward, and as he juggled it in the air, his skate came up and kicked the puck in.Less than a minute later, though, the kind of problem that would eventually betray the Eagles cropped up when Tony Joseph drew a double minor and 10-minute and game misconducts while losing a fight with San Diego's Barry Dreger.

The Eagles would give the Gulls eight power-play opportunities, including a fatal 1:34 minutes worth of 5-on-3, while the Gulls took just two minors that the Eagles couldn't convert.

San Diego moved to 18-10-5 with its fourth straight victory with its first two scores on power plays by Daniel Shank.

Shank's second score was the killer when he burst in on Eagle goalie Jamie McLennan off the center-ice faceoff :06 into the third period. The Eagles had killed much of that 5-on-3 power play to finish the second period strongly.

But it's just a matter of time when killing that many penalties with two players ejected. Newest Eagle Marc Laforge exited at 18:52 of the second to give the Gulls the two-man advantage when he disputed Derek Martin's cross checking call against him by tossing a Gull helmet into the crowd.

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"Special teams leaned heavily one way and took some toll on our conditioning and changed the flow of the game," said Farrish. Play didn't seem that lop-sided (8-2 in minors), Farrish said, but he didn't know if he'd quarrel with the calls until seeing the videotape.

"It was a close enough game," Farrish added, "that we believed we were going to win until they scored their last goal." There was just 1:45 left when Lonnie Loach parked a long rebound in the Eagle net for a 3-1 lead.

The Eagles were close despite getting "a little sloppy the second period, trying to do too much individually," Farrish said. "They buried their opportunities, and we had three or four good ones and didn't."

The teams meet again tonight in the Delta Center in the Eagles' New Year's Eve Extravaganza that features free food for paying customers, free skating and comedy/music entertainment as the clock counts down to 1994.

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