ECHL Playoffs: Idaho Advances to Western Conference Final

John Ryder (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern on the triumphant Steelheads...

The Idaho Steelheads defeated the Ontario Reign 5-3 on Tuesday night to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Steelheads won the series four games to two to advance and will face the Stockton Thunder, who defeated the Alaska Aces four games to two as well. It will be a re-match of the 2010 Western Conference Finals where the Steelheads defeated the Thunder 4-2.

Let’s look back at Tuesday night’s game first.

The Steelheads knew that the Reign, feeling the desperation that comes with a 'win or go home' scenario, would come out with their hair on fire and try to take to the game to the visiting Steelheads. That’s exactly what happened as the Reign were credited with 13 shots on goal to only four for the Steelheads in the first. The Reign also jumped out to an early lead as 3:36 into the first, Kyle Kraemer would get his first goal in seven games to make it a 1-0 Reign. For the next 10 minutes, the Steelheads would hang on and weather the storm. Josh Robinson would turn aside all shots until David de Kastrozza got his second goal of the playoff season to tie the game at 1 at the 12:18 mark of the period.

That would start a bit of a scoring flourish. After the Steelheads tied the game, the Reign came right back just 2 minutes and 15 seconds later to take a 2-1 lead. This time is was Everett Sheen with the goal. Once again though the Reign could not hold onto a lead. This time it was a power play goal as Brett Robinson would tie the game 54 seconds after the Reign took the lead. No more scoring in the period would lead to a 2-2 tie after one period.

The second period was all Idaho as Justin Taylor and Austin Fyten would score the only two goals of the period to extend the Steelheads lead to 4-2 after two periods of play. The Reign continued to apply pressure as they outshot the Steelheads once again 11-6.

In the third period, the Steelheads seemed to have control of the play and despite the Reign getting some of their better chances of the series, Josh Robinson continued to turn away all shots until former Steelhead Jake Hauswirth beat Robinson with a shot from the high slot to make it a 4-3 with 6:05 left in the game. As time was winding down the Steelheads drew a penalty on Brady Calla with 2:38 left in the game. Where normal convention would think it would be a mere formality that the Steelheads would be able to just run clock for 2 minutes, the Reign upped the pressure even more and generated a few chances as well down a man late in the game.

The Reign appeared to have tied the game up late, however referee JM McNulty waved it off for having lost sight of the puck and blowing his whistle before the puck rolled over the goal line. Moments later Brett Robinson would pick up a loose puck right before it crossed the Reign goal line for icing and deposited it in the empty net to give the Steelheads a 5-3 and the victory.

It was a hard fought series and you could point to a variety of reasons why the Steelheads were able to advance, but for me it is awfully hard to look past the addition of Patrick Cullity back into the Steelheads line-up. His arrival for game three still saw the Steelheads lose, but the number of chances the Reign would get dropped considerably and allowed the Steelheads offense to find their groove and get a few bounces to take three straight games to close out the series.

A whole new challenge awaits the Steelheads in the Stockton Thunder. The Thunder have come from behind to win seven of their eight games en route to advancing to the Conference Finals. More on that to come later this week.