For 2 1/2 periods Friday night in the Salt Palace, the Peoria Rivermen had the streaking Golden Eagles by throat. But with 9:49 gone in the third period, Peter Lappin picked off a puck in the Eagle defensive zone and sent Marc Bureau flying for a goal that tied things at 3-3, and the Eagles hung on through overtime to win two shots to one in a shootout, defenseman Chris Biotti getting the important shot for a 4-3 win.
That gave the Eagles the longest win streak in the International Hockey League at nine games since Milwaukee got five goals in a row from Jeff Rohlicek and defeated Saginaw 7-3 Friday to break a 13-game Hawk streak that would have become an IHL record had they won their 14th."We'd like to take a run at 14," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter, "But we have to play better."
Or Peoria will have to back off a little. The Rivermen and Eagles meet again in the Palace tonight.
"That was the best game a team's played against us in the last month," said Baxter. "That was the most (scoring) opportunities we've allowed in the first two periods, I betcha, in a month and a half, even on the road."
It was true. The Rivermen were at Steve Guenette's goalmouth constantly for about 50 minutes, and they had good chances to win even after Bureau's game-tying goal.
Peoria Coach Wayne Thomas, who coached the Eagles two years ago, noted that his team was one of the few to come into the Salt Palace and get 39 official shots on goal against the Eagles this season. Most of those shots seemed to be of the good-opportunity variety, too.
"Give Peoria credit," said Guenette. "They played a whale of a two periods, as good as I've seen them. They've got a couple new D (defensemen) who move the puck better, and it took an adjustment on our part. Their power play's better, and we've got work to do for tomorrow night."
Guenette won his eighth straight game Friday but said the nine-game team winning streak's more important. "We've got the longest win streak in the league and want to build on it," he said.
Lappin had a big hand in winning the game with the play on Bureau's goal and the first of the Eagles' two shootout goals. "Lappin made a great play," said Baxter. "He was the third guy back and blocked a pass across and countered right away, and Bureau used great speed on their defenseman."
"I was talking on the bench," remembered Thomas, "and saw Bureau flying down the wing, and he made a good shift on our defenseman and took him outside."
"He made a great play," Bureau said about Lappin. "It was a good outlet, a good flip pass." Bureau waited for Darrell May to commit and shot between his legs.
Lappin then scored as the first Eagle shootout shooter, and after Paul Ranheim and Rich Chernomaz failed against May, Baxter
started looking around for someone to call on.
"It's gut instinct every time," Baxter laughed of his selection process, which took some time. "I kinda thought about him right away, but you want to make sure in your mind, even though it might not be a rational choice."
"I was surprised I got the opportunity to go," said Biotti, who had only one other shootout chance in his career - in a preseason game his rookie year. He missed. He prefers to go in without a shot in mind, sort of like the coach chooses - by instinct. "He went to the left and to the right and came back up the bench," Biotti noticed of Baxter's selection gaze. "I looked to my right to see who was beside me, and it was Wayne Cowley (goalie), and I knew Wayne wasn't going to go."
Like Biotti, Guenette doesn't claim big shootout success. It was his first for Salt Lake, but he said, "I'm the worst shootout goalie to ever play, but we came up with a couple of goals and I lucked out."