Hockey, like most sports, is a game of momentum. When you have it, you can dominate. Chance upon chance. Goal after goal. Confidence breeding confidence. Players feel it and feed off of it. Playoff hockey magnifies this. Then suddenly, you make a mistake and the momentum shifts. You lose it. The pendulum shifts. You try to hang on. Inevitably you cannot.
The Idaho Steelheads rode the wave of good momentum for a little over half of Game Four in the Mountain Division Semifinals of the Kelly Cup Playoffs against the Colorado Eagles Friday night. Reeling off four straight goals and completely out-playing the flat Eagles for the first half of the game, Idaho had the momentum in spades. Just 5:33 into the second period, the Steelheads enjoyed what should have been a comfortable and commanding 4-0 lead. They were out-shooting, out-playing, out-hustling and most importantly, outscoring the Eagles.
Then, reigning ECHL defenseman of the year Matt Register scored a power play goal at 9:43 of the second on a bomb from the point with the Steelheads shorthanded for a too many men bench minor.
Momentum began to shift.
Less than five minutes later, All-Star forward Matt Garbowsky scored his first of the playoffs and cut Idaho’s lead in half, and the Eagles had life. Shots started to make it through. The majority of the action was in their offensive zone. Even though the Steelheads were able to tack on another goal before the end of the second period, momentum had completely shifted. Colorado ended up out-shooting Idaho 19-7 in the second and despite being outscored 4-2 in the frame, the stage was set for an epic, if not improbable comeback.
Idaho settled into a prevent-style defense in the third period, and it ultimately prevented them from holding on to the lead. They registered only two shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. The Eagles only took five, but scored on three of them. Goals by forwards Alex Belzile and Julien Nantel, then the third goal in the final 2:28 by Register sent the game to overtime. Register who has a penchant for scoring big goals late in games ended up having a 5-point game (2g 3a).
With the aforementioned momentum clearly on the Eagles side heading into overtime, Belzile wasted no time and buried his third goal of the series and his fifth point on the night just 0:41 in from an impossible angle along the goal line. Gritty work on the forecheck freed up the puck and he fired it past shell-shocked Landon Bow for the OT winner. It was Belzile’s second five point game as an Eagle. Colorado ended up scoring four goals on its final six shots on goal and completed a comeback that will not soon be forgotten.
Looking more like the team that won a team-record 17 in a row earlier this season, and not the squad that stumbled while dropping five of their last seven contests down the stretch, the Eagles not only snatched momentum in Game Four, but clearly have the momentum in the series, having won the last three games in a row, including two at CenturyLink Arena in Boise.
Colorado will be looking to close out the first round playoff series by winning Game Five on Friday night in Boise. It would be the Eagles first foray into the second round of the playoffs since they joined the ECHL six years ago.
Puck drop is at 7:10.