The record setting, for now, is over. The Turner Cup IHL playoffs begin Tuesday night for Denver and the Golden Eagles in the Salt Palace, and "everybody's slate is clean," said Eagle Paul Ranheim, one of the Salt Lake club's prime record setters.
"Everybody gets a new breath going into the playoffs," said Ranheim. "I can feel it already."Ranheim, of course, is a rookie. He wasn't around last season to see the Eagles win their second straight Turner Cup. He's never been in a professional-style playoff series. But he said he's looking forward to the closer games, where every goal really means something, and to the tighter checking and more physical play that long series bring.
The Rangers and the Eagles got a playoff-style taste of each other in the last 10 days as they played four times in six nights, the Eagles winning three and Denver winning one but making the Birds sweat all the way. Now the Rangers have some confidence, and they'll also have goalie Mike Richter and hard-working forward Mark Janssens back from the New York Rangers, who were beaten out of the NHL playoffs Sunday.
Said Eagle captain and leading scorer Rich Chernomaz about those games last week, "I don't think we were at the top of our game. I don't think we made the point we wanted to against them."
But things will escalate a notch beginning Tuesday, said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter. "In the playoffs, the intensity level is up one step," he said, "and it's key that we're on our game at the start."
On their game means speed and power. "We'd better use our assets, and one of them is physical play," said Baxter. "We have to play a very physical, uptempo game.
"We need a unanimous commitment from everybody in the small areas," said Baxter. "When the defenseman passes the puck, we're going to take him out of the play hard in their end, and we hope that through attrition it will pay dividends. Even if the first hit doesn't mean anything, we hope that later in the game there will be some telltale signs of its effect."
Ranheim looks forward to challenging a Denver defense that frustrated him last week. "They put a checker, Simon Gagne, on me," said Ranheim, recalling a 6-foot-5 body draped on him. "I think I can frustrate him if I outskate him. It will mean more work on my part."
Ranheim expects to be back with his old linemates, Chernomaz and Randy Bucyk, after spending part of the Denver series last week with Jim Johannson and Peter Lappin. Baxter wouldn't say if he made that change to combat something Denver, a much-improved club defensively, was doing.
Ranheim adds that the Eagles will probably change their forechecking system to sending all three forwards into the zone rather than keeping one high in the slot to prevent 2 on 1s and 3 on 2s. "With three guys forechecking, you get better containment in their end," he said.
Also, it could mean more shots and more rebounds against Richter, who "makes the first big save really well," Ranheim said.
Another matchup to watch is how the Eagles contend with Denver's Simon Wheeldon, the league's No. 2 goal-scorer behind Ranheim.
Denver Coach Doug Soetaert said he likes to get Wheeldon away from Bucyk; last week in Denver, he played Wheeldon mainly against Jim Johannson. "We will accept that," said Baxter, who also tried deploying defenseman Ken Sabourin on Wheeldon during the two home games March 31 and April 1.
With Janssens back, Denver has another offensive weapon, along with Wheeldon, Kevin Miller and Paul Broten. Upon his return from the December head injury that occurred in a Salt Palace fight with Martin Simard, Janssens scored six goals, six assists in eight games and was promptly recalled by New York.
Wednesday, after the Eagles had won 6-2 in a game that was tied 2-2 with seven minutes to play, Soetaert was very upbeat. "Deep down," he said, "I think we can beat Salt Lake if we have Richter back, and maybe Janssens, and we get strong defense."
Now, though, he's calling the Eagles "no doubt, the favorite in this series. They're defending champs, and we're the underdogs. I'm speaking the truth," he said.
He probably recalls last season, when the Rangers were West Division champs and the Eagles beat them in the semifinal series on their way to the Cup.