By digging themselves a big hole early in Tuesday night's game, the Golden Eagles find themselves sitting in a bigger hole after just one game of the Turner Cup playoffs.
The Phoenix Roadrunners jumped out to a four-goal lead in the first period then held on for a 6-4 victory over Salt Lake at the Salt Palace. With the next two games - Thursday and Saturday - in Phoenix, the Eagles are definitely on the wrong side of any home ice advantage."We came out very tentative and nervous tonight," said Eagle Coach Bob Francis. "We went out waiting for things to happen and usually with that approach, it's bad things (that happen). We have to come out better prepared." Roadrunner center Jeff Rohlicek was the star of the night as he scored four goals, including three in the first period when Phoenix jumped out to a 5-1 lead. Then after Salt Lake stormed back to within 5-4 in the third period, Rohlicek wrapped things up with a sprawling goal with less than eight minutes left.
"We just came out flying and got the bounces in the first period," said Rohlicek. "I got open and our players put the puck on my stick."
Rohlicek, who played with Milwaukee last year before signing as a free agent with the L.A. Kings organization over the summer, had good help on his first goals, but his last goal was a beauty.
He was one-on-one with Eagle defenseman Rick Lessard down the right side and got around him only to be tripped. As he lay prone on the ice, Rohlicek flipped a shot past Warren Sharples.
"(Lessard) didn't angle me off, so I just threw the puck around him. He tripped me and on the way down, I just got lucky and put it past the goalie," said Rohlicek.
"They chipped away at us and then Rohlicek made that great play and put the game away for us," said Phoenix Coach Ralph Backstrom.
Despite a disappointing crowd of 4,184, Golden Eagle management tried to inject some playoff atmosphere into the contest by dimming the lights and introducing the entire Eagle roster with a shining spotlight and some background noise that sounded something like thunder or bombs bursting in air. The Eagles quickly lost any edge when Andrew McKim was called for a holding penalty just 18 seconds into the game. Less than two minutes later, the Roadrunners' Steve Jaques took advantage with a power play goal.
Salt Lake responded soon after as Mark Osiecki, who hadn't scored a goal all season until last week, took a pass from Paul Kruse in the slot and beat Mario Gosselin to tie it 1-1.
But Phoenix ran off four straight goals, three by Rohlicek to make it 5-1 at the break. It was the most goals Salt Lake had given up in the opening period all year and Francis pulled goalie Steve Guenette in favor of Sharples.
"Guenette wasn't at fault," said Francis. `It was just for a shakeup more than anything. Weneeded a change of scenery."
The Eagles came out with more emotion in the second period and scored a pair of goals in the first five minutes as Tim Sweeney and Martin Simard found the net. Then Sweeney came back with a power play goal early in the third period as he made about five fakes on Gosselin before finally beating him with a high shot. "We really thought we could win the game," said Sweeney.
After the two games in Phoenix, the Eagles will return home for Game 4 Wednesday and they hope, Game 5 Friday. Although Rohlicek said winning the first game was a "huge advantage" for his team, he also said the home ice won't make much difference. "I think it'll go seven games and be a close series."
The Eagles, despite their disadvantageous position, agree.
"This series has been pretty even and I don't care if you play on the moon, you still have to win the hockey game," said Francis.
"We're not panicking yet," said Sweeney. "I don't think we're afraid at all of going on the road to play Phoenix. The jitters are gone now. We've got a long series ahead of us."