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Mechanically, Friday night's New Year's Eve game in the Delta Center was the same as Thursday's game between the same two teams. Salt Lake scored first, but San Diego scored two power-play goals to lead most of the game, then put it out of reach with a late score, this time an empty-netter with :52 left in a 3-1 Gulls win.

Eagle power plays and the ejection of their scoring leader, Zigmund Palffy, with a major and match penalty for a disputed intent to injure infraction were the Eagles' downfall, just as an 8-2 power-play disadvantage and two player ejections had been on Thursday. Again, the winning goal scored on a headlong rush as the Eagles missed defensive assignments in penalty killing.Yet, this game really wasn't the same. Where on Thursday night the Golden Eagles had played a strong freewheeling game, on Friday night before 11,331, second-largest crowd since the team moved to the Delta Center, the Gulls, who have now won five straight, controlled the direction of the puck and forced the Eagles into a game that's not of their choice - dump-and-chase.

"What they were doing," said Eagle coach Dave Farrish, "was plugging up the middle area." That kept the Eagles from playing their zig-zagging motion game at center ice, disrupted all of their passing and kept shots to a minimum. "You can't criss-cross in neutral ice with 10 bodies in the way," he said.

Once the Eagles realized that they'd have to gain the red line and dump the puck in to get a forecheck going, said Farrish, and once they were willing to play that kind of game that is usually better suited to a big, physical team, they got better pressure on Gull goalie Mikhail Shtalenkov with 17 third-period shots. "A lot of good ones," Farrish said. But they didn't beat Shtalenkov.

The Eagles took their lead on a short-handed goal from 25 feet up the slot by Dave MacIntyre, who handled a pass that deflected off a skate from Scott Scissons.

That came during the five-minute major penalty to Palffy, a penalty Farrish couldn't explain. It was spotted by linesman Brian Steck, who called it to the attention of referee Don Adam following a stoppage of play after Dan Plante rammed head-first into Shtalenkov on an Eagle scoring attempt with 1:12 left in the first period.

Palffy is suspended for the Eagles' next game, Tuesday with Kalamazoo in DC, and will be subject to review by league comissioner Tom Berry.

The Eagles, with MacIntyre's score and good penalty killing during the major, survived that problem but San Diego scored (Lonnie Loach) during an Eagle penalty for too many men on the ice at 6:45 of the second period, and Scott Arniel got the first of his two goals for the night with a rebound of a breakaway shot by Hubie McDonough. Goalie Jamie McLennan went over backward with the puck lying at his feet, and Arniel tapped it in.

Arniel added the empty-netter just eight seconds after McLennan was pulled for the extra skater, at 19:08 of the third period.