For the first time in their six-year ECHL existence, the Colorado Eagles have advanced to the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
After losing in their postseason opener to division rival Idaho, the Eagles rattled off four straight wins, including three in a row at CenturyLink Arena in Boise to advance to Round Two where they will meet the two-time defending Cup champion Allen Americans. Allen finished off the Utah Grizzlies in five games on Saturday night.
Coming off an improbable comeback Friday night, the Eagles started Game Five quickly, scoring three goals in the first 11:17 on goals by rookie Julien Nantel, Luke Salazar and another rookie Cam Maclise who scored his first two professional playoff goals in the game. Idaho was able to claw its way back into the game but unlike the Eagles on Friday, they were unable to replicate the same result. The Steelheads got as close as 4-3 before standout forward Alex Belzile provided an insurance goal on the power play late in the second. Another rookie, Ryan Harrison scored into the empty net from center ice to finish off the scoring in a 6-3 final.
Colorado has rediscovered the chemistry which was evident during a 17-game winning streak earlier in the season. Several late season call ups to San Antonio, the loss of starting goalie Clarke Saunders to the AHL San Jose Barracuda on a 25 game Professional Try Out (PTO) contract, and a lack of cohesion due to inconsistent lineups were the main contributing factors to an Eagles team that went 7-6-1 over their final 14 games heading into the playoffs.
Saunders’ call-up, which leaves the Eagles without their #1 goalie, creates an odd coincidence in that the Barracuda are Allen’s AHL affiliate.
Colorado’s power play which was second in the league during the regular season struggled late in the season, but has once again become a weapon in the playoffs going 5 for 19 in the series against Idaho, including 2 or 3 in the clincher Saturday night.
Belzile is tied for the ECHL playoffs goal-scoring lead with five goals in five games. He and teammate Matt Register are tied for second in points with nine apiece.
The ECHL has yet to release the schedule for Round Two of the playoffs, however Allen did win the Mountain Division and will have home ice advantage against the Eagles.
In an odd ECHL scheduling quirk, even though they were division foes, the Americans and Eagles met just twice in the regular season, with both games being decided by one-goal. The Eagles beat the Americans in Colorado 4-3 in November, and again 5-4 in Texas in December.
If those results are any indication of what lies ahead, this should be a long tight series to decide the Mountain Division.