The Idaho Steelheads had a few days to prepare for Game 6 of their playoff series against the Colorado Eagles.
Coach Brad Ralph had a clear message to his players at Thursday's practice.
"I told the guys, 'If the series has to go to a Game 7, so be it. If we have to go to overtime in Game 7 to win it, so be it,' " Ralph said. "We've got to be willing to go the distance."
Well, the first-round ECHL Western Conference series won't be going the distance.
Thanks to forward Andrew Carroll's late-game heroics, Idaho defeated Colorado 3-2 on Friday night at CenturyLink Arena to clinch the series after six games.
"There's nothing better than the playoffs," said Carroll, who scored a goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime. He followed that score with the game-winner 1 minute, 43 seconds into the extra period.
"Obviously, Andrew had a heck of a game for us," Ralph said.
Carroll began the season with Idaho before earning a call-up to Connecticut of the AHL in late January. He rejoined the Steelheads when the series was in Colorado, but Friday was the first time he had played at CenturyLink Arena since Jan. 19.
"I started here, and I don't forget playing in this league," Carroll said. "Obviously, everybody's goal is to move up, but to come back here and play playoff hockey, there's nothing better."
Turns out, he almost didn't get a chance to score that all-important goal near the end of regulation.
"It's kind of funny, because we had a little timeout there and I was drawing up who was on the ice, and he wasn't listening," Ralph said. "I almost didn't put him on the ice because I was mad at him. But he scored, so that's good."
Idaho, the No. 3 seed in the conference, moves on to face Ontario, the No. 2 seed, in the Western Conference semifinals. Games 1 and 2 will be played in California on Friday and Saturday. Game 3 will be played on Idaho's home ice Wednesday, April 24.
First, Idaho will get a little time to enjoy its big win over Colorado.
"It was a stressful game," Ralph said as he let out a deep breath and took off his tie in his office. "You know, we just didn't seem to get our rhythm for the first half of the game. But once we found it, it was like, 'Let's just hope there's enough time on the clock.' Fortunately, there was, and then when it went to overtime, we were going to win that game."
Colorado certainly had the momentum early on as forward Brock Nixon surprised Idaho goaltender Tyler Beskorowany 57 seconds after the puck dropped.
The Eagles had a 5-on-3 opportunity midway through the second period, but Idaho killed it off. Colorado had a 20-6 shots-on-goal advantage at that point, but the penalty kill seemed to swing the momentum in Idaho's favor.
A few minutes later, Adrian Foster fed Austin Smith in front of the goal. Smith faked a shot, then sent a backhander past Colorado goalie Kyle Jones to tie the score 1-1. It was Smith's fifth goal of the playoffs, and with the assist, Foster tallied at least a point in every game of the series.
Colorado forward Trent Daavettila recorded his 10th point of the series when he scored with 62 seconds remaining in the second period.
The Eagles maintained that 2-1 lead for most of the third period, but Idaho had a power-play opportunity late in regulation, and Carroll cashed in with 2:52 remaining to send the game to overtime.
All three games of the series played at CenturyLink Arena went to overtime. Idaho won Game 1 before Colorado took Game 2.
Idaho, however, won the most important one: Game 6. Idaho improved to 4-1 in Game 6s during the ECHL era.
"(Colorado) gave us everything we could handle," Ralph said. "But at the end of the day, we've got a great team here, and when we do play to our potential, it's exciting to watch."
Chris Langrill: 377-6424