The Salt Lake Golden Eagles eliminated the Denver Rangers in their first-round IHL playoff, sweeping the series in four straight with a 6-3 victory Saturday night in the Denver Coliseum.
Leading the way was Eagle right winger Peter Lappin, whose two-goal effort not only gave him a total of six in the four-game series but also sparked a Salt Lake rally in the second period. "I thought Lappin really took things on his own," said Salt Lake Coach Paul Baxter. "A genuine persistent effort - he responds really well to pressure."While Baxter was saluting Lappin and mindful that Salt Lake capitalized on both its power-play opportunities, he also expresed concern about his players having an indirect hand in the Rangers' scoring. "Their first three goals may have been the result of us not clearing the puck out of our zone."
Of course, Ranger Coach Doug Soetaert was saying the same thing about his team. "We literally gave them three to four goals. We had bad plays and bad passes - and it cost us."
There was some wondering how the nearly eliminated Rangers would come into Saturday night's game - would they become the Denver "Rovers" and roll over and play dead? Or would they "fight" out an existence and continue the penalty propensity of the playoff series.
Instead, they showed considerably more offensive attack, which suited Eagle goalie Steve Guenette just fine, having the constant work in the net."Their backs were against the wall and so they had to come out and play hockey . . . I didn't have any of those seven- to eight-minute gaps of doing nothing."
The Rangers took their first lead of the entire playoff series by scoring the opening period's sole goal at the 8:08 mark, with Mike Golden following up and putting away a rebounded shot.
Salt Lake outscored Denver 4-2 in the second period, with three goals coming in a span of less than one minute. Lappin scored playoff goal No. 5 at 3:10, with a puck rounding the rightside boards in a Eagle power-play opportunity. Chris Biotti centered for Lappin, who whipped the puck past Ranger goalkeeper Mike Richter from 25 feet out front of the net.
Denver answered 28 seconds later with a Robb Graham goal, but Salt Lake needed only 28 seconds itself to tie it at 2-all as Rich Chernomaz followed a rightside face-off by weaving his way in and out to the right side of the net before coming around to the front and scoring.
The Eagles took their first lead of the night, 3-2, with a power-play goal by Jim Leavins on a long slapshot at 7:10 of the second. Marc Bureau and Randy Bucyk were credited for the assists, but Rich Chernomaz and Paul Ranheim helped create the scoring opportunity by setting up in front of Richter - so much so that the puck had barely reached the net before the Ranger goalie was racing over to complain to Referee Derek Martin of improper interference.
Soetaert said later that a check of the video during intermission suggested that Chernomaz took Richter out, leaving the net open.
Denver tied it up one more time as Golden capitalized on one of several rapid-fire rebounds at 13:49.
However, the Golden Eagles went up 4-3 at 15:05 as Lappin tallied his eighth goal of the playoffs and second of the night - taking the puck down the left on a one-on-one against Denver defenseman Denis Larocque, only to slide wide and under and then back up to the net to beat Richter.
Guenette stopped all nine Denver shots-on-goal in the third period, with Marc Bureau (with 35 stiches above the right eye after taking a stick in Friday night's game)stealing a lackluster Ranger pass in the Denver defensive end and rapping in an unassisted goal from above the right circle at 9:48.
The insurance goal, making it 5-3 Salt Lake, came after the Golden Eagle defense killed a Ranger power-play chance.
From there on out, Salt Lake stifled Denver in the final 10 minutes, with Baxter acknowledging his team's effort in one of the "crunch" times.
"We were not consistently good (in the series) as we can be, but in the crunch we excelled," he said.
"The last 10 minutes were picture perfect."
In the final minute, Bureau opted to pass off on an open-night breakaway, allowing Ranheim his first goal of the playoffs after starting the series with the flu.
The two-time defending Turner Cup champion Golden Eagles now advance to the semifinal round against the Milwaukee-Kalamazoo winner (Milwaukee leads 2-1 after Kalamazoo won Saturday night).
The next series might not start for another 10 days, giving the Golden Eagles a much-needed rest after playing 10 games in 13 days - not to mention four physical playoff contests in five days, including the Thursday-Friday-Saturday arrangement.could start as
Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate about where the financially failing Rangers might play next year - in Denver, in Kansas City, in bankruptcy court?
And did all the dollar dealings have a negative effect on the Denver team?
"It had no effect on the players," said Soetaert. "They are the property of the New York Rangers. They'll be looked after if we're here in Denver next year or in another city."