Welcome to the International Hockey League opening-round playoffs, Game Three, between those hellaciously happy rivals, the Denver Rangers and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles. In other words, the old revolving-door policy in the penalty box.
Final score - Salt Lake 5, Denver 2. Final penalty tallies - 48 penalties called (two majors, three misconducts, 43 minors), 129 minutes combined. The two-team total minutes and the Ranger's own set new Denver standards for lows.No wonder, then, that Denver Head Coach Soetaert was singing the got-slapped-on-the-wrist blues for the Rangers. "A few guys were totally undisciplined in the penalties they took. The way to play this game is to be aggressive, but you've got to use your head. There was a lack of that and it cost us."
It cost the Rangers a 3-0 disadvantage to the two-time defending Turner Cup champion Golden Eagles, who could advance to the IHL semis with a clinching victory tonight at the Denver Coliseum in the fourth game of the best-of-seven series.
Ranger fans are talking about the sweeps - how the Rangers will likely get swept and how the parent team, the New York Rangers, were swept by Pittsburgh in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. And there's the other kind of sweep, where the bankrupt Denver team may be swept out of town and into another locale next season, say, perhaps Kansas City.
While Soetaert was bemoaning the penalties, Eagles Head Coach Paul Baxter expressed satisfaction that his Salt Lake squad didn't match in penalty propensities. "Especially in the first period, we could have been selfish and retaliated in a number of situations. That allowed us to take the lead in the first period - and that was a big period for us."
But Baxter was tight-lipped about the officiating, offering a terse "no comment" when asked about the fouls and the several five-on-five playing sequences. And it was not an uncommon sight to see the penalty boxes stacked three-deep by both teams and the crowd saving its loudest chants for a rousing rendition of "we want a ref!"
In the opening period, the Eagles converted on their second power-play chance, as Randy Bucyk took a from-the-endline pass from Peter Lappin on the short-left angle and backhanded it past Mike Richter for the game's first score at the 8:32 mark. Denver tied it at 1-all three minutes later as Mike Golden scored unassisted off a faceoff in the Salt Lake end.
But Marc Bureau gave the Golden Eagles their 2-1 first-period advantage by slapping a three-quarters-speed shoot from the right side past Richter's outside shoulder as the winger just crossed the blue line at 13:14.
Salt Lake jumped to a commanding 5-1 lead by scoring three goals in 12 minutes - the first at just :29 on a mid-center shot by Rich Chernomaz on an assist from Bucyk; the second at 8:33 on an unassisted shorthanded goal by Jim Johannson on a breakaway; and the third Lappin's fifth goal of the series at 11:59.
Denver finished the second-period scoring with Mark Janssens pouncing on a rebound and punching it past Salt Lake goalie Steve Guenette.
For the record, the third period finished in a scoreless duel between the two rivals. After Guenette rejected several Ranger attempts, the rest of the night was given to racking up most of the few major penalties assessed in the game. Baxter credited Guenette's saves as having a stifling effect on the Rangers, who could not come up with the second- and third-period rallies that sent Thursday's game in the Salt Palace into overtime.
Meanwhile, Denver and Salt Lake take to the ice for their third game in as many nights and their fourth in five nights. Said Soetaert: "Tomorrow's a new day."
For the Rangers, perhaps the start of a new season in perhaps a new city? And for the Eagles, a chance to get a week's rest going into the semis agaisnt the winner of the Milwaukee-Kalamazoo series.