The Salt Lake Golden Eagles established their presence early Saturday night, physically dominating the visiting Fort Wayne Komets and cruising to an easy 6-1 win.
The win ups the Eagles' record to 46-20-3 on the season, including a franchise-tying 29 home ice wins. The Eagles go after a record 30th home win Sunday in a rematch with Fort Wayne beginning at 7 p.m. in the Salt Palace."I think we played with great enthusiasm and intensity," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter. "We made good decisions on defense, and we played with great zeal going to the net."
There was one poor decision, however. A fight three minutes into the first period sent most of the front line to the bench with major penalties, including the ejection of left wing Stu Grimson. The fight didn't help the injury-riddled Komets either, as defenseman Martin Burgers was also ejected.
The loss drops Fort Wayne to 30-27-6. Coach Rob Laird said it was simply a case of not having enough guys "playing with courage, pride - whatever you want to call it."
"They (Salt Lake) just took it to us," Laird said. "Something was missing tonight."
The Golden Eagles jumped on top 1-0 at the 3:57 mark when left wing Paul Ranheim slapped in a pass from defenseman Rick Lessard right in front of the net. Ranheim added a second goal at the 14:32 mark, this one coming off a centering pass from defenseman Chris Biotti. Three minutes later, the Eagle right wing Peter Lappin slapped in a rebound off a shot by Biotti to give Salt Lake a 3-0 lead after one period. Fort Wayne managed 11 shots on goal in the period but most were long-range efforts that lacked punch.
Salt Lake added its fourth goal at the 11:40 mark of the second period on a three-on-one breakaway with right wing Rich Chernomaz capping the play off a pass from Ranheim. Moments later the Eagles ran the score to 5-0 when defenseman Rick Hayward finished off a two-on-one breakaway off a pass from right wing Marc Bureau at the 12:33 mark.
Defense was the key as the Eagles kept the action in the Fort Wayne end of the rink, despite three power-play opportunities for the Komets. The Eagles did an excellent job of killing penalties and then putting offensive pressure on Komet goalie Rick Knickle. Despite Salt Lake's five goals, Knickle turned away 28 shots in his two periods in goal. Without Knickle's superb effort the score could easily have been 10-0 as the Eagles missed several breakaway opportunities.
Salt Lake scored its final goal at 12:33 in the third period on a power play. Defenseman Jim Leavins did the honors taking in a pass from Ranheim.
Fort Wayne finally got on the board with just under two minutes remaining when defenseman Claude Dumas managed to get a step on Ranheim as he circled right across the middle and flipped in a short wrist shot over the outstretched Steve Guenette. Guenette had 26 saves on the night.
"The only real pressure from them came on the power plays," Guenette said. Guenette said he feels the team is getting down to serious hockey and are ready for the playoffs. "Everybody is working hard and I think we're ready."