Eagle Coach Paul Baxter said his club had things well enough in hand that he wasn't really sweating their 2-1 lead midway through the third period.
But Marc Bureau's goal at 11:31 to make it 3-1 - which turned out to be the final over Flint Saturday night in the Salt Palace before 7,523 - was still a welcome addition."It was a big goal," said Baxter, recalling how, on an earlier play, Eagle goaltender Steve Guenette got caught out of the net playing a puck along the sideboards, losing it and not getting back in time to have stopped a goal if the Spirits had gotten off a shot. "A fluke like Stevie getting caught out of the net could happen again," Baxter said.
Still, he was not worried.
"We played hard, got the puck deep, and I don't think we felt threatened because we limited their scoring chances," said Baxter. "We played very effectively in the third period, the way we have to down the stretch."
The Eagles' fifth straight win, and Flint's 17th straight road loss, kept Salt Lake in a first-place tie with Milwaukee for the West Division lead with 91 points. There are five more games left in this homestand.
The Eagles took a 2-1 lead by 18:23 of the first period. Stu Grimson opened scoring just 1:54 into the game with a shot out of a scramble.
"Our line has to set the tempo for the other lines to follow," said Bureau, who centers for Grimson and Martin Simard and picked up an assist on that first goal. Bureau said maybe that checking line didn't set a good enough tempo Thursday night against the Spirits in a 6-4 Eagle win.
Flint's Yves Heroux snapped a pass from Michel Mongeau into the Eagle net from right in front of Guenette at 2:23 of the first, and things stayed that way until Rich Chernomaz's power-play goal with 1:37 left in the first. He controlled a rebound from a Brian Glynn shot from up the slot, moved to his right and shot around goalie Kenton Rein, who was making his IHL debut.
The second period was scoreless, and so was the first half of the third period.
But the Eagles were starting to really control things in the third, playing the man more effectively.
Players like Bureau, Rick Hayward and Ken Sabourin had been doing that much of the night - punishing Flint players on each shift - but there was more of it from everybody in the third.
"We're big and fast for our size," said Bureau about the Eagle team. "We've got to use our size."
"I thought Bureau was a dominant force in the game. I liked Hayward, and I liked Sabourin," Baxter said.
Actually, Hayward did a little too much a couple times and got penalties, and his zest resulted in a five-minute penalty against him when he was called for a major for charging Rein, who'd gone to the boards to play the puck late in the second period. "I was going for the puck; he was going for the puck. I just had so much steam," Hayward said. He expected a minor penalty out of it.
But the Eagles killed off that major and went on to a strong third period.
"I'd love to see us play that way more," Baxter said about the third period. "We played the way we can. We tend to get a little fancy at times," he said, "and we have to make the safe play. In the third period, we took the safe plays."
He would have preferred to see the Eagles crate more commotion in front of the opposition's net, but Flint's scrambly style seems to take that part of the game - and the fancy passes - away.
Commotion or not, the Eagles outshot Flint 14-5 in the third period and 46-27 for the game. But Guenette ended up making "the big save at the right time" a couple of times, said Baxter. His stop on Mike Hoffman's breakaway with 4:05 left was key.