Peoria Coach Wayne Thomas said his Rivermen played one of their best games of the year, especially in the way they moved the puck to create scoring chances in the first period, but the Rivermen only scored once in those first 20 minutes.

Thomas knew they needed more against a team the like Golden Eagles, going for their sixth straight win and the chance to move within two points of first-place Milwaukee. "We've got to finish our chances early," Thomas said. Except for Kelly Chase at 4:46 of the first period, they didn't, and that gave the Eagles time to unleash their own attack.The Randy Bucyk-Paul Ranheim-Rich Chernomaz line came up with the rest of the goals in the game as the Eagles won their sixth straight, 3-1, before 3,982 in the Salt Palace.

Flint comes to the Palace Thursday and Saturday as the 11-game Eagle homestand reaches its midpoint, and Peoria is back Feb. 10 and 11.

"We could have won," said Thomas, whose improving young team was one good bounce away from getting into overtime against the Eagles Monday. "I'm not saying we outplayed them," said Thomas, "but it's encouraging. Two months ago, we couldn't have done this.

"They knew they were in a game."

"Tonight we were in a situation where we started flat," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter. "Peoria came out with a lot of jump and took it to us."

But the Eagles were patient. "Patient and smart. We went to the attack when it was appropriate," Baxter said.

Ranheim scored on a rush with Chernomaz just as a power play was ending at 13:06 of the second period and, after a first period in which they had only eight shots on goal, the Eagles came out of the second with a 16-9 advantage in shots. In the third, it was 17-7 for the Eagles.

Bucyk scored twice in the third, with his unassisted goal at 11:18 typifying the Eagles' patience. As Chernomaz and Ranheim created a diversion, Bucyk slid across the slot holding the puck until Darrell May went down and Bucyk swept a backhander into the net for the eventual game-winner.

"Our guys go to the net so well," Bucyk said. "There was a big scuffle in front, and the goalie didn't have too much of a chance."

Bucyk had Chernomaz to thank for his second goal, too. That came into an empty net with :02 left. Chernomaz and Bucyk beat the defense into the zone. Chernomaz carried but passed to Bucyk for the certain score. "That's class," said Bucyk. "He's that kind of guy."

Chernomaz, with two assists, moved his scoring streak to 12 games (23 points), and Bucyk has scored in four straight and 14 of 16 since he returned from his trip to Moscow with Team Canada in mid-December.

"That line saved their bacon," said Thomas - no other Eagle had a point, while Bucyk had three and Ranheim and Chernomaz two each.

Peoria goalie May drew praise from Thomas, Baxter and Eagle goalie Steve Guenette, who won his fifth straight and has allowed only nine goals in that time. "If it hadn't been for May," said Guenette, "it would have been five or six goals. He was just solid and didn't make many mistakes."

Guenette, scored upon just once in his last two games - Chase's "was a hesitation on my part," he said - was helped by solid defense from Dave Reierson and Ken Sabourin, said Baxter. "Reierson dominated the game in a lot of aspects and totally controlled play," Baxter said.

EAGLE NOTES - Forward/defenseman Doug Clarke, 24, in a move said to be of mutual accord, has been given his release by the Calgary Flames and will return to studies at Colorado College. He's been with the Eagles the past 11/2 seasons but had played only 35 games as the Eagles are overloaded with personnel.