Salt Lake Golden Eagles Coach Paul Baxter said he was scared to death; Denver Ranger goalie Mike Richter should be after facing 120 shots in just two IHL playoff games against Salt Lake.
The Eagles flirted with the prospects of another record, with their 63 shots on goal being just a half-dozen shy of the team's game-best mark, but it was the Rangers who were looking like record-breakers by trying to cram five players into the penalty box.And one more thing about Thursday night's IHL opening-round playoff between the two bitter Western Division rivals - the Eagles may have won their eighth straight at home against the Rangers, but they needed to go to overtime to do it.
In the end, it all becomes a matter of credit - not the financial kind that the bankrupt Rangers would love to have, but credit awarded to Dave Reierson for scoring the game-winning goal for the Golden Eagles' 6-5 OT triumph Thursday night at the Salt Palace before a crowd of 4,378.
With the Golden Eagles holding a 2-0 lead after winning the first two at home, the series now switches sites this weekend, with the Rangers playing host to back-to-back contests tonight and Saturday night in the Denver Coliseum.
Salt Lake may have outshot Denver 63-25 in the three-periods-plus contest, but the Eagles needed Reierson's long slapshot from the top left corner with 1:50 gone in overtime for the victory. But talk about a lack of respect for the game-winning shot. Not only did the 24-year-old defensiveman not even see the shot - he was taken out immediately by an opponent - but initial credit was given to teammate Stu Grimson for deflecting the puck and causing the score.
"I wanted to make sure that I got the puck near the net," said Reierson of his shot. "I was taken out and all of a sudden, I hear the cheers."
To his, ahem, credit, Grimson waived any involvement and the goal was soon re-announced as belonging to Reierson - his second such overtime goal of the season - with Marc Bureau and Rick Lessard assisting.
Afterwards, Reierson said, "It really doesn't matter as long as it goes in."
What did matter was that the Eagles rebounded from a lackluster half-game, watching a commanding 4-0 lead midway in the second period later become tie scores at 4-all and 5-all in the third. In fact, Denver forced the overtime on a goal with 19 seconds remaining by Mark Janssens, who recently returned to Denver from the New York Rangers after they were eliminated in their first-round NHL playoffs.
"I'm partically numb," said Baxter, bemoaning the flip-flop in game tempo and control after his team pretty much had its way in the first period and a half. "That was very close to being a negative result on our part. Frankly, I was scared to death."
The first period opened in physical fashion - 12 total penalties, 33 minutes for the Rangers and 24 for the Eagles. And at one time, the Ranger penalty box with its five occupants looked more like a standing-room-only crowd.
While Salt Lake outshot Denver 24-4 in the first, Ranger goalie Mike Richter - also a recent N.Y. Ranger refugee - turned back the many barrages, with the Eagles' sole goal coming at 13:48 as Chris Biotti using a double screen in front of the net to help score on a long shot from the far left corner.
The Golden Eagles added three quick goals to open the second, beginning with Rich Chernomaz curling around from behind the net to flip in a score at 1:06.
A Denver penalty negated another wrap-around goal by Paul Ranheim two minutes later, but just as the Salt Lake man-advantage concluded, Eagle winger Peter Lappin cut in front of the crease to rebound a Jim Johannson shot. And with less than seven minutes gone, Rick Hayward added Salt Lake's fourth with a shot from the left angle as Johannson clogged up action in front of the goal.
However, Kevin Miller and Simon Gagne scored Denver's first two before the second period ended, bringing the Rangers to within 4-2 even though Salt Lake had boosted its cumulative shots-on-goal difference to 50-11.
In the third, Denver's Mike Hulburt sent a shot between Eagle Goalie Steve Guenette's legs for an unassited power-play goal, followed by a one-on-one, unassisted score by Miller - a shorthanded one, at that.
Lappin put Salt Lake up 5-4 with a spinning power-play shot on a hard, left-side angle, but Janssens' goal forced the overtime as Denver pulled Richter from the net in the final minute.
Guenette set up the Eagles' winning attack in overtime by stopping a solid scoring attempt by Miller in the first 30 seconds.