|Pat Nagle (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
With little room from error, the Idaho Steelheads offense finally woke up as they produced four different goal scorers en route to a 4-3 victory to tie the first round series at two games apiece and guarantee a return trip to Idaho for Game 6 on Monday.
Coming into Game 4 of the first round series between the Idaho Steelheads and the Colorado Eagles, I was curious as to what Head Coach Brad Ralph could do or was willing to do to provide a spark for Idaho. Through three games, every able body on the Steelheads roster had seen ice time except for one. That is not the case anymore.
In what could be seen as a shocking move, although to yours truly it was a little less of a surprise than you would think, Ralph switched goaltenders opting to go with Pat Nagle over Josh Robinson for Game 4 between the pipes.
The switch had absolutely nothing to do with Josh’s performance of the first three games. His numbers through three games were 2.03 GAA and a .943 save percentage. He has only allowed 6 goals on 106 shots. Those 106 shots faced were enough to rank him second in shots faced when compared to other goaltenders who have played a similar number of minutes.
This was a move designed to shake up the team in front of the goaltender and to get them to play differently or with a different mental mindset. If you are looking for psychologist Mulhern, you’ve come to the wrong place. I won’t be able to tell you what could have changed on Thursday night, only that it did change, and it worked out for the best.
Nagle would end up stopping 24 of 27 shots (the lowest amount seen by an Idaho goaltender in the series) on the way to Idaho’s series tying 4-3 victory. His biggest save of the night might have been his first one, when just 10 seconds into the game Luke Fulghum tested the glove hand of Nagle. Nagle would pass that test with flying colors and away we went.
Idaho would get one the board not only first, but second as well. William Rapuzzi would net his first of the playoffs in typical playoff fashion, with the Steelheads getting the puck to the net and hoping for some good things to happen.
Not to be outdone, and to prove that the ECHL’s regular season best shorthanded goal scoring team wasn’t a fluke, Rob Linsmayer would make it 2-0 after Gaelan Patterson would knock down an attempted clearing attempt from Colorado Eagles goaltender Dustin Butler. Colorado while on the same power play, just 12 seconds later, would pull back one and send the teams to the locker rooms with Idaho holding just a 2-1 advantage.
In the second period, it was once again the Steelheads that came out looking to capitalize on their chances, for the third Idaho goal, Linsmayer would return the favor to Patterson on a perfect feed out of the corner and Patterson made no mistake for his first of the postseason and a 3-1 Idaho advantage.
The theme for Idaho when it came to scoring goals on this night, was getting to loose pucks, battling along the boards, and getting into the “dirty” areas on the ice. The fourth Idaho goal had a little bit of all of that as Brett Robinson would find his way to a loose puck below the goal-line and would have just enough time to find Brock Montgomery down below the circles. Montgomery made a quick spin move to fire a quick shot on net that beat Butler, gave Idaho a 4-1 advantage and force Colorado coach Chris Stewart to pull his starter for back-up Eric Williams just 7:16 into the second period.
This is where I would like to say the Steelheads were able to coast home with a win, but in the playoffs we all know that things never come easy. Colorado would pull two goals back by the end of the second to make it a 4-3 game and provide for a drama-filled third period.
In the third period, Colorado would only manage an official total of six shots on net, but like the Steelheads on Tuesday, there were many more that missed just wide or were blocked down in front. Of course, there was also that pesky post that got in the way of a game tying goal late in the third period as well. The Steelheads managed to get seven shots, but never were really a threat to score. The Eagles would get help with two power plays in the period, but once again the penalty kill came up huge for Idaho and kept Colorado off the board for the final twenty minutes of play.
With the win, Idaho takes back home ice in the series and now has a chance to come back to Idaho with a 3-2 series lead, but that will not be an easy task. All 4 of these games have been battles with every inch of ice being contested and every power play being a legitimate chance for either team to score a goal.
Some final Game 3 numbers:
- Pat Nagle 24 saves on 27 shots
- Dustin Butler (COL) 11 saves on 15 shots
- Eric Williams (COL) 10 saves on 10 shots
The Idaho power play was 0-for-1 and the Colorado power play was 1-for-6. Interesting note, after Idaho received the first power play opportunity, the next six power plays (and penalties) went against the Steelheads. Through four games Idaho has had six power play chances to Colorado’s 15 man advantage opportunities.
As we now turn our attention to Game 5, there are a couple of questions that need to be answered. Of course when you are on the winning side of a game, you have far fewer questions to answer. The biggest question if you are Brad Ralph is do you stay with Nagle for another night or do you go back to Josh Robinson. If you were to ask my opinion, I stay with Nagle for no other fact than he just won a game for your and the team played well in front of him.
If you are Colorado Head Coach Chris Stewart, the questions become, do you make a line-up change? Who is available? Was this a one-off game or something that needs a strategic adjustment? Finally, do you make a goaltending change and go with rookie Williams, or stay with rookie Butler who has played strong up until Game 4? Again, in my opinion, I don’t think he makes any significant line-up changes, I don’t think he drastically alters the game plan. Colorado’s plan seems to be straight forward. Get the puck on net and play physical. Finally I think he stays with Butler. He has played well during the series and has earned the right to start in Game 5.
We’re just hours away from finding out which team will have the chance to advance to second round on Monday, it should be a good one.