The Eagles did exactly what they didn't want to do Wednesday night as they opened their Turner Cup semifinal playoff series against the Milwaukee Admirals in the Salt Palace.
Not only did they lose 3-2, but they didn't look good losing, at least not until the final five or 10 minutes of the game, and even then they committed the critical turnover of the evening.In a game in which they'd hoped to dictate line matchups and tempo for the rest of the best-of-seven series, they did little to establish themselves.
"We didn't initiate the contact in their zone that I expected," said Eagle Coach Paul Baxter.
"We played a bad game. We played a good team, and they outplayed us and beat us," said Eagle forward Peter Lappin, who elevated the whole Eagle team's play late in the final period with a series of fanatical shifts that led to his seventh playoff goal.
"At least we left the game with a good note," Lappin said.
But his score came at 18:21 of the third period, and Milwaukee's Rob Murphy had scored unassisted :33 earlier for a 3-1 lead that sealed the Game 1 win.
Eagle defenseman Chris Biotti lost the puck in the neutral zone, and Murphy cruised in with a partner to his right, 2 on 1, against goalie Steve Guenette to plant the winning score.
Biotti had scored the Eagles' first goal at 16:18 of the second period to cut a 2-0 Milwaukee lead. Admiral Dan Hodgson had scored on a power-play rebound at :33 of the second period, and Jeff Rohlicek added a score at 15:47.
Biotti's goal was followed soon after by a 53-minute delay between the second and third periods because of a broken ice-cleaning machine. A backup was brought out of the Salt Palace basement. The delay took the game to the 3 1/2-hour mark. Baxter was against continuing without the Zamboni work because the Eagles were behind and needed to execute offensively, and rough ice would have made that tougher.
Once play resumed, they did better.
"I felt much better in the third," said Lappin, "but you can't win a playoff game playing just one period.
"I don't think it had to do with the way Milwaukee was playing defensively," said Lappin. "I think it had to do more with a lack of intensity or lack of aggressiveness on our part."
Baxter, however, credited the Admirals. "That was as good as any team has stymied our offensive attack in a good month and a half. They closed off the center lane, and we didn't respond," he said.
When Milwaukee stood up at the blue line, said Baxter, the Eagles needed to get the puck deep and control it. "We've got to make it an offensive play when we dump it in we've got to get there first, and we've got to turn over the puck," he said.
Milwaukee Coach Rick Ley was hardly gushing with the victory, though the Eagles had won 14 straight home games and hadn't lost a home playoff since May 16, 1987. Ley's team has, after all, won in the Salt Palace four times this season, even though the Eagles have only lost there eight times in 1988-89.
"In the third period, what they had, we gave them," Ley added, "because we turned the puck over.
"I don't think we established anything," Ley said. "The only thing we established was a win, a step in the right direction. They can't take that away from us."
Milwaukee did a superb job disrupting Eagle passes, particularly when killing penalties, holding the Eagles 0 for 7 with the man advantage. "We were fortunate to limit their quality opportunities," Ley said. They limited Eagle shots until the second half of the game, too. The Eagles had just six in the first period. "We made them play on the outside, and it worked," Ley said.
"It was our fault as a team not getting passes stick to stick," observed Eagle Paul Ranheim.
Baxter said the team's execution wasn't good. "In a clutch-and-grab game, you've got to fight through the interference," he said.
He denied that the 11-day layoff between games had anything to do with an off-night. "We've had enough B.S. the last week on the layoff. We're not looking for excuses; we're looking for solutions, and we didn't find any for Milwaukee. We'll be better Friday," Baxter said.
"I don't think you can accept anything as an excuse," Lappin said.
Ley said the Eagles seemed normal to him.