Before Tuesday night, the Golden Eagles had won nine straight home games. They hadn't lost in regulation time at the Salt Palace since late January. They had beaten the Kansas City Blades all seven times they'd played at the Palace this year.
Of course, the Eagles lost 5-2 to the Blades, who happen to be the worst team in the International Hockey League.It was one of those games you could see coming from miles away. The Eagles have little to play for right now with second place in the IHL West locked up. They were coming off two impressive wins over league-leading Peoria and a come-from-behind road win over next week's playoff opponent, Phoenix.
And the Blades, after a horrible start in their initial season, have played well lately, with a winning record in their last 20 games.
"We have a lot of pride," said Kansas City assistant coach Ken Morrow, the former U.S. Olympic star, who was filling in for Doug Soetaert, who stayed in Kansas City. "And the incentive for (Salt Lake) is the playoffs.
"We certainly had something to prove, if nothing else to be spoilers the rest of the way. We played a real disciplined hockey game tonight."
On the other side, Eagle Coach Bob Francis was disheartened by his team's poor performance.
"We were simply outplayed," he said. "We were very tentative at the start. We were waiting for something to happen and tried to react. You can't win hockey games that way."
In their nine straight home victories stretching back to late February, the Eagles had scored first every time. So when Kansas City struck first on a Kim Issel deflection of a shot by Jim Burke, it was a bad omen for Salt Lake.
The Blades went up 2-0 early in the second period on the first of Jim Latos' two goals, before the Eagles suddenly got a burst of energy with two goals in a 20-second span midway through the period.
Rookie C.J. Young scored his 31st with a nice assist from Scott McCrady and defenseman Mark Osiecki, after sitting out for eight games with an injury, finally scored his first goal of the season.
The Blades copied the Eagles in the third period with a pair of goals 27 seconds apart and added an empty-netter in the final seconds.
For the night, the Blades outshot the listless Eagles 37-19.
"We were awful at the blue line," said Francis. "We had way too many turnovers and never entered their zone with any authority."
The Eagles meet the Blades again Friday night at the Salt Palace, before heading to San Diego for a pair of games Saturday and Sunday. The playoffs begin in Salt Lake Tuesday against Phoenix.
Francis knows Tuesday's loss means little, but he wants to make sure his team doesn't pick up any bad habits going into the playoffs.
"We can do what we want with this. We can panic or we we can keep in perspective and learn from it. We have to realize we have to show up with a good work ethic to get results."