LOVELAND, Colo. – The Colorado Eagles organization has two main motivations in their quest to capture the 2018 Kelly Cup Championship: defend last year’s title win, and claim the Cup one more time before moving up to the AHL.
After taking Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, the Eagles took a dramatic step forward in making their unprecedented dream a reality.
Colorado found themselves either behind or tied for the duration of regulation against Fort Wayne, trailing 3-1 to the Komets with less than twelve minutes remaining in the third period. However, the championship experience and mettle of the Eagles would not let the two-goal lead stand, as captain Matt Garbowsky and rookie Joey Ratelle scored within about five minutes of each other to tie the game at 3-3 and send it into overtime.
As both teams fired everything they had to give at their respective goaltenders, it was a Ryan Olsen rebound from an initial Ratelle shot that sealed the comeback at 10:34 of overtime and pushed the Eagles into the Kelly Cup Final.
As was the case in Game 6, Fort Wayne led in shots on goal for the vast majority of tonight’s match-up. Also, a holdover from the previous game was Colorado’s penchant for turning the puck over deep in their own zone. Former Eagles defenseman Cody Sol picked off a Colorado clearing attempt that he converted into a slap shot, ringing the post behind Colorado goalie Joe Cannata with the game’s first tally at 2:07 of the first period.
The one-goal lead would not last long, however, as Colorado responded in short order. Eagles defenseman Nicolas Meloche shot the puck into Fort Wayne territory, missing Komets netminder Michael Houser and the net completely. The resulting rebound off the end boards was gathered by a hustling Drayson Bowman, who lasered a shot past Houser at 4:50 of the first to make it a 1-1 game.
Colorado’s ailing series power play was given another chance toward the end of the first period, as Komets captain Jamie Schaafsma went to the penalty box for a holding minor at 16:48. The Eagles went backwards on the man advantage, though, allowing multiple short-handed attempts instead of pressuring the Komets when they were down a skater. Fort Wayne continued the onslaught after gaining Schaafsma back, with returning Komets forward Dennis Kravchenko feeding the 35-year-old veteran on a 2-on-1 break for his fifth goal of the postseason at 19:19 of the opening frame.
Period two provided no goals for either team, but was eventful nonetheless with a Marc-Olivier Roy penalty for tripping at 1:49 and a Shawn St-Amant call for holding at 9:16 of the second. Colorado actually put up a solid chance during the Roy power play opportunity, with Brady Shaw passing to Joey Ratelle in front of a wide open net. Fort Wayne’s defense got a body down in front, however, preventing Colorado from tying the game at two apiece. Fort Wayne’s narrow margin of 9 to 7 shots on goal for the period rightfully indicated Colorado’s competitiveness despite being down a goal the entire period.
The third period found Fort Wayne continuing its barrage on Joe Cannata and Colorado’s defensive zone until a delay of game call against the Komets at 5:50. Colorado remained in Fort Wayne’s end for the majority of the power play, generating a solid Brady Shaw chance on goal in the process. However, the next shot after the man advantage would go to Shawn Szydlowski, who found himself on a 2-on-0 rush to blow one by Cannata and make it 3-1, Fort Wayne, at 8:02 of the third.
Colorado began clawing their way back into the game a mere four minutes later, with the Garbowsky goal coming at 12:00 on the dot after Collin Bowman centered a pass to him through traffic. After the crowd rose to their feet with four minutes remaining in regulation, the Eagles added the equalizer at 16:51 of the third on a St-Amant pass to the left wing that Ratelle wristed past a stunned Houser.
The overtime period brought with it Fort Wayne’s pressure on Joe Cannata, but the Colorado goaltender was quick to cover the puck on a number of occasions to squelch the Komets from consecutive chances. Colorado didn’t get their first shot of the extra frame until 4:40 of overtime but was gifted a power play at 8:43 when Dennis Kravchenko plowed into Cannata, knocking off the goaltender’s helmet and earning an interference on the goalkeeper minor penalty.
The final play of the game occurred on the ensuing power-play. Ryan Olsen was skating down the right wing, putting a pass to Ratelle out in front. The puck somehow deflected back to Olsen on the doorstep, who proceeded to swat the puck into the twine, thus ending the game and the series just over halfway through the extra frame.
The Kelly Cup Final is now set, with the Eastern Conference Champion Florida Everblades traveling to Colorado for Game 1 on Friday, May 25 at 7:05 pm MT. As with the Western Conference Final, follow along with @SinBinEagles on Twitter for all your live game updates!