While owner Richard Gerry spent most of the first three periods telling the news media why the Denver hockey team had filed at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday for protection under Chapter 11 bankruptcy laws, the Ranger players, who knew nothing of the front-office transaction, were out on the Denver Coliseum ice helping to bankrupt the Golden Eagles' win streak.
Salt Lake could have tied the pro hockey record with a 16th straight win, but Denver cut the streak off at 15 and broke its own eight-game losing streak with a 5-4 overtime shootout victory in its second-to-last home game.The last home game is Wednesday night with the Eagles, a team the Rangers could meet in the playoffs next week.
Tuesday's was the second straight shootout decision between the two teams. The Eagles took a 3-2 shootout victory in the Salt Palace Saturday. This one wasn't as well played, but crazy bounces and flared tempers kept the tempo up.
"Can you believe it? We play like this and win," said Ranger Coach Doug Soetaert. "I wasn't very happy with the team effort tonight. We made a lot of mental mistakes and kept letting them back in."
The Eagles never led, but they tied it at 1-1, 3-3 and 4-4.
"We can play better in all areas," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter, who has pointed to the Eagles' good discipline for helping to win recent games and considered Tuesday an example of what happens when that discipline is lacking. "If we don't take those penalties, we're successful," he said.
Denver scored twice on power plays. Of course, the Eagles scored twice short-handed, but killing penalties catches up eventually, Baxter said.
The Rangers had taken a 3-1 lead by 4:21 of the third period, but Eagle defenseman Jim Leavins scored twice, once short-handed, to complete his second career hat trick at 6:40 and 9:23 of the third period. In between, a Stu Grimson shot bounded over the top of goalie Scott Brower's glove and dropped to the ice inches from the goal line, then suddenly turned at a 90-degree angle and rolled harmlessly away. Brower, playing because Mike Richter was recalled by New York Tuesday, was obviously shaken by the Eagles' sudden offense.
But then Eagle goalie Steve Guenette and Denver center Simon Wheeldon purposely collided and began pointing sticks at each other, the ongoing result of two incidents in Salt Lake last week. "He ran into me three times in less than two games," said Guenette, who'd already been run over Tuesday by Simon Gagne. That incident cost Brian Glynn an instigation minor when he came to Guenette's defense by chasing Gagne almost ice-length to get into a fight.
Guenette went after Wheeldon, and Stu Grimson came to his aid. Salt Lake picked up an extra two minor penalties for that altercation, giving Denver a 5-on-3 power play and Mike Golden's goal at 13:59.
After Golden scored, Guenette and Ranger Paul Broten went after each other, and Guenette was ejected while Broten got a 10-minute misconduct.
"Those penalties killed us," said Leavins, "but we kept plugging away, and when Buce (Randy Bucyk) popped the tire (scored), it was anybody's game. We had the opportunities," said Leavins, noting the Eagles outshot Denver 43-17, "but give the kid (Brower) credit."
Bucyk scored the Eagles' second short-handed goal at 14:44 to tie the score 4-4 and eventually force overtime and the shootout - that was played without Guenette.
The Eagles' Paul Ranheim and Chris Biotti scored in the shootout, but goalie Wayne Cowley took the loss, giving up three shootout scores. First, 6-foot-5 Gagne came in like a freight train. "There was nothing I could do," Cowley said. Golden and Wheeldon feinted right and shot to Cowley's glove side. "I had them," Cowley said, but when he reached out, the shots went through.
Leavins couldn't get a fourth goal as Salt Lake's final shooter, and Denver took the win. "I got the hat trick but didn't accomplish anything," said Leavins.
"Maybe I'll take the blame," said Baxter, who thought he might have stirred Eagle emotions when he complained that Denver's first goal, by Barry Chyzowski, was way offside. It was another goofy bouncer - a high dump-in pass that Ken Sabourin reached with the tip of his stick. Instead of being knocked down, the puck went to Gagne - already in the corner - and he threw it back out to Chyzowski in the slot.