Mercier leads Steelheads to fifth straight win

Idaho secures home-ice advantage for the Kelly Cup playoffs.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 6, 2014 

Justin Mercier and the Idaho Steelheads are playing their best hockey at the perfect time.

Mercier scored three goals and assisted on another as Idaho won its season-high fifth consecutive game Saturday night, defeating Colorado 6-3 at CenturyLink Arena.

The win clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the ECHL's Western Conference playoffs.

Idaho will host its first two playoff games April 18 and 19. Tickets go on sale Wednesday.

Idaho is assured of no worse than the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. The Steelheads have two regular-season games remaining, both at Utah, which currently holds the No. 3 spot in the standings.

"We're playing the game much better and we're very close to playing it the right way in terms of playoff hockey," coach Brad Ralph said.

Idaho is 8-2 in its past 10 games, thanks to contributions from players like Mercier, who returned from a long stint in the American Hockey League on March 15. Mercier has five goals and nine points in his last four games.

"He's been good for us since he's been back. He's a force. He's a dynamic skater, and he was certainly feeling it (Saturday)," Ralph said.

The run coincided not only with Mercier's return but also with the additions of college players Jason Bast and Eamonn McDermott and the stabilization of the team's goaltender situation with Josh Robinson and Pat Nagle.

"Even though I wasn't here, I followed closely. I know they went through some adversity when I was gone," said Mercier, who was team captain at the beginning of the season. "When I came back, I just wanted to do my best for the guys."

Mercier made it 2-1 with a power play goal in the first period, put Idaho ahead 3-2 with a disputed goal off his skate in the second period and iced the game with the final tally on a wrist shot high to the glove side in the third period.

Mercier has 16 goals in 41 games for the Steelheads.

Idaho's David de Kastrozza scored his league-leading sixth shorthanded goal in the first period to open the scoring. He added a second goal in the third period.

Colorado, currently fifth in the Western Conference standings, is a likely first-round opponent for the Steelheads. Idaho went 7-2 against the Eagles this season, including this weekend's sweep. The game ended with six penalties for fighting or roughing in the final six seconds.

"All prior meetings kind of go out the window when playoffs start," said Mercier, who scored one goal in each period for his first professional hat trick.

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