Coach Brad Ralph challenged his players after the Steelheads lost Game 3 of their ECHL Western Conference semifinal series Wednesday night.
Idaho exploded for three first-period goals on its way to a 6-0 win over the Ontario Reign on Friday night at CenturyLink Arena. The win knotted the best-of-7 series at two games apiece, with Game 5 scheduled for Saturday night on Idaho's home ice.
"I think the guys stepped up to the challenge," Ralph said. "I don't think we were going to be denied tonight. But we've got unfinished business here (Saturday) night."
What will happen in that Game 5 is anyone's guess in this unpredictable series. It has featured an overtime win for Idaho, a 5-0 win for Ontario, a one-goal win for Ontario and now a 6-0 win for Idaho.
But this much is clear after Friday. If the Steelheads get clicking, they're hard to stop. Perhaps Ralph needs to issue another challenge.
"He called (Austin Smith) and I out before the game," said forward Tyler Gron, who scored two goals in the win. "Not in a bad way, not in a mean way, by any means. But he just said, 'No team wins a championship without their best players being their best players.' Smitty played great tonight, and I think that's probably the hockey you're going to see out of him from here on out."
Smith, the team's leading goal-scorer in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, started the scoring for Idaho with a power-play goal 7 minutes, 30 seconds into the first period. It was Smith's first point of the semifinal series, and it was Idaho's first power-play goal after going 0-for-8 with a man advantage in the first three games of the series.
The next goal came courtesy of the hockey gods. Defenseman Patrick Cullity dumped the puck off the glass, and Ontario goalie Jean-Francois
Berube went to corral the puck from behind the net. Instead of skimming around the boards, however, the puck ricocheted off the glass and into an empty net.
"We caught a couple breaks, but we kept it going," said Cullity, who also notched two assists and has four points in two games since returning from the AHL. Cullity missed the end of the game because of a minor injury, but he said he'd be able to play Saturday.
Gron scored his sixth goal of the postseason before the first period ended, and the Steelheads skated into the first intermission with a 3-0 lead.
While the Steelheads were scoring goal after goal, rookie goalie Josh Robinson was turning away every Ontario shot that came his way. His biggest play of the night might have been 6 minutes into the second period, when Ontario's Adrian Van de Mosselaer had a point-blank shot a couple of feet in front of Robinson.
"It was a big save at that point of the game, for sure," Ralph said.
Robinson admitted the play required a little bit of luck.
"I basically put my glove up and the puck went into my glove," said Robinson, who earned his first pro shutout. "It was almost too close to react, so you just have to put your glove in the best position."
Gron notched his second goal of the game midway through the second period to make it 4-0. Before the end of the period Justin Taylor took a pretty feed from David de Kastrozza from behind the net and cashed in with his third goal of the playoffs.
Ontario coach Jason Christie pulled Berube, who came into the game with a 6-0-1 record in the playoffs, after the second period in favor of Chris Carrozzi. Rookie all-star Austin Fyten closed out the scoring by beating Carrozzi 7:02 into the final frame.
Ralph challenged his players prior to the victory. Now his message to them is simple.
"We all know what we can do," Ralph said. "It's just a matter of getting it done."
NOTE: Idaho veteran defenseman Gord Baldwin sat out the second game of his two-game suspension Friday night. He will be eligible to play Saturday.