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It is game day at the Allen Event Center (6:05 pm puck drop) and not just any old game day. For the Idaho Steelheads, it is win or go home so they will be playing for their playoff lives. The Allen Americans will also be playing desperate because there is no way they want this series returning to Boise.

Coach Steve Martinson held a practice at 5:30 pm last night and brought in a couple of secret weapons to help out, Chad Costello and Gary Steffes – two main cogs in Allen’s back-to-back Kelly Cups. Gary is an inspiration on and off the ice, especially the 2014-15 season when Steffes had 57 goals between the regular season and playoffs as Allen won their first Kelly Cup. Two Kelly Cups, three MVP’s, three scoring titles and never missing a game regular season or playoffs (276 straight) in his three-year career in Allen tells you all you need to know about Costello.

The team spent a lot of time at practice working on the power play and who better to help out in sharing his wisdom than Costello. Costello averaged 45 power play points per season in his three years in Allen which is a good overall season for most players. Having the quarterback of the top power play in the league (2014-17 average) help out with power play practice is excellent.

The value of having Costello and Steffes back on the ice with coach Martinson at practice is more than anything related to X’s and O’s. Their willingness to return, hang out with the guys, share their experiences says a lot about the history of the Allen franchise and why it has been so successful. Hopefully, their presence is an inspiration to the entire team but especially to all of the rookies.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the game tonight. You know Idaho is saying if they can get a win in game five and get the series back to Boise they are right back in the series. It would be reminiscent of last year when Allen went down 3-0 to Colorado and then won two games in Colorado to get the series back to Allen.

Here is an update of the comparison stats between Allen and Idaho after four playoff games with the Americans holding a 3-1 series lead.

                        ALLEN                      IDAHO

Goals For                 14                         11
Goals Against             11                         14
Power Play             7.7% (1/13)               17.6% (3/17)
Penalty Kill           82.4% (3/17)              92.3% (1/13)
Leading Scorers       Shmyr (2G-2A-4)         Harstad (2G-2A-4)
                     Makowski (2G-2A-4)       Parizek (2G-2A-4)
Most PIM's            Pochiro - 10               Baldwin - 9

Here is how Allen and Idaho rank among the 16 teams in the ECHL playoffs:

Penalty Minutes Per Game: Allen 7th (14.25) - Idaho 9th (13.00)
Goals Scored Per Game: Allen 2nd (3.50) - Idaho 9th (2.75)
Goals Allowed Per Game: Allen 8th (2.75) - Idaho 15th (3.50)
Shots For Per Game: Allen 12th (27.50) - Idaho 8th (35.25)
Shots Against Per Game: Allen 9th (35.25) - Idaho 5th (27.50) 
Power Play Percentage: Allen 15th (7.7%) - Idaho 4th (17.6%)
Penalty Kill Percentage: Allen 13th (82.4%) - Idaho 2nd (92.3%)

Shot differential has been an issue for Allen all season and to a lesser extent in this series. The Americans overcome this with an excellent shooting percentage (12.7%). Coach Martinson mentioned in the loss on Friday the team did not support the puck as well as they did in the earlier games. Puck possession and supporting the puck will be a key to victory tonight.

The biggest positive for Allen in this series is they have scored the first goal in all four games, and the young guns/rookies have led the way. It was Braylon Shmyr in game one, Jared Bethune in game two, Shmyr again in game three and J.C. Campagna in game four. Keeping this streak alive would be big for the Americans.

The biggest negative in the series for Allen has been special teams play. The Americans can’t keep losing the special teams battle and expect to win. The team knows this, and there was a lot of time working on special teams at practice last night. Hopefully a little of that Costello and Steffes power play magic rubbed off, and there will be one or two power play goals by Allen tonight.

It is kind of a broken record you hear from fans and coaches alike but taking retaliation penalties have been costly to the Americans. I know the referees have been warned about the antics of Idaho captain, Jefferson Dahl, but Allen needs to avoid retaliating. As coach Martinson has said many times if a player does something you don’t like and he isn’t willing to drop the gloves just take down his number because there will be another time for paybacks. This game is too critical for those type of penalties.

Americans in the AHL news: Vincent Arseneau and his Utica Comets lost 3-2 in Toronto yesterday in the first game of their best of five series.  Colby McAuley and the San Jose Barracuda beat Tucson 6-3 at home last night to even the best of five series 1-1.

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