It is all coming together for the defending-champion Eagles - the streaks, the records, the game-long efforts, the concentration, the discipline; the goaltending and defense has held opponents to only one goal in four of the last five games, two in the other one.
If they stay true to form Wednesday night, the playoff-hungry Eagles can tie the franchise record for most wins in a season (49) and stretch their streak to a season-high 10 wins, and rookie left wing Paul Ranheim can tie or beat Joe Mullen's season goaling record of 59."We've got a good trend developing," said Coach Paul Baxter. His Eagles got four in the first and three in the second and went on to an 8-1 win Tuesday night over Peoria in the Salt Palace.
"We took it to them early," Baxter said, "with a high-tempo, physical game at the start. The guys were very committed to all areas of the game."
Baxter is especially proud that the Eagles, the International League's second most penalized team, have held their cool and not taken retaliatory penalties recently. Those penalties hurt them earlier in the season.
The Eagles blasted Peoria goalie Darrell May with a season-high 59 shots, 22 in the first period and 23 in the second, while playing a careful defensive game with the third forward staying high and rotating into defensive situations. "It shows you don't have to sacrifice offensively to play well defensively," Baxter said.
Goalie Wayne Cowley held his concentration as his teammates kept play on the Peoria end of the ice most of the night. "He wasn't tested much," said Baxter, "but he was up to the call."
"One shot is all they're getting," said Cowley, complimenting his defense for keeping the puck out of his face. "When they told me they had 29 shots, I said, `No way,"' he said, figuring it had been maybe 20 shots at most. "They only had a few quality shots."
Cowley stopped one of them early, when he slid out to block a shot, but the puck went to Peoria's Phil DeGaetano standing at the left-wing goalpost with nothing but net in front of him. "Half the game is luck for a goalie," said Cowley. "The way I play is, I build on saves. One big stop can be the key."
The defensive-style line combinations scored three of the first four goals. Peter Lappin centered a fourth line with Doug Pickell and Mark Holmes, and at 5:18 of the first period, Pickell wristed home a pass from out of the corner from Holmes after a faceoff. At 8:27, Marc Bureau centered for Pickell and Holmes and scored on a redirection of a pass from Rick Lessard after Pickell had kept the puck in the zone.
Lappin scored his 43rd of the season on a wraparound at 12:12, but then defensive winger Martin Simard planted the first of his two goals for the night, putting in his own rebound. Peoria's Dave Thomlinson got the Rivermen's only goal short-handed 1:24 into the second period, but Simard and Rich Chernomaz worked a 2 on 1 break short-handed at 7:10.
"I didn't want to shoot it," said Simard. "I wanted to give it to Rich." Chernomaz and Eagle Jim Johannson are tied for the IHL lead in short-handed goals with seven each, and that would have given Chernomaz eight, but the defenseman came too hard and Simard took the goal.
Chernomaz's turn came at 9:46 of the second period, and Ranheim finished with the game's last two goals to pull within one of Mullen's 9-year-old mark. Ranheim has 14 goals against Peoria and has scored at least one goal in every game against the Rivermen this season.
Pressure? Nah, says Baxter. "I think he's enjoying the opportunity."