This is when things get interesting. Serious hockey fans know it, and hockey players definitely know it.
Playoff hockey is a whole different animal.
“This is the best time of the year,” Steelheads captain Jefferson Dahl said.
Here are five reasons why this week is important for the Steelheads and their fans.
Win or go home
Idaho’s first-round series against the Colorado Eagles is tied. Colorado finished second in the ECHL’s Mountain Division and Idaho third, but the Steelheads enjoyed a 6-4-1 head-to-head advantage in the regular season. The final five games were decided by one goal, with two of the contests ending in a shootout.
“We’ve seen them so many times this year,” Idaho defenseman Joe Faust said. “We know their lineup, just like they know us.”
With a split in the first two games in Loveland, Colo., Idaho gained home-ice advantage.
“Obviously, it would have been nice to get that second one on the road,” Idaho forward Rob Linsmayer said of Colorado’s 2-1 overtime win in Game 2 on Saturday night. “But now we have three games at home.”
Top of their game
Idaho came into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the ECHL. The Steelies went 7-1 in their final eight games and 18-5 in their final 23.
“We wanted to build toward the end of the year,” Faust said. “We tried to treat every series at the end of the regular season like a playoff series.”
During that stretch Idaho arguably played as well as any Steelheads team has played in years.
“I agree with that statement, because of the way the team has come together,” coach Neil Graham said.
Dahl missed the playoffs last year after breaking his left thumb the final weekend of the regular season.
“It was tough, especially playing all season long and then getting hurt,” said Dahl, a University of Wisconsin product. “But it definitely gave me a different perspective.”
This week, his perspective is guardedly optimistic.
“We’re happy with where our game is and that we have three here at home,” he said.
If depth is a key factor in a hockey team’s chances in the playoffs, then Steelheads fans should feel good. Case in point: Travis Walsh, a defenseman who was named an All-Star during his rookie campaign this season, was a healthy scratch in the first two postseason games. Forward Kyle Jean, who had 34 points in 68 games, also sat out.
“I think it speaks volumes about our depth,” Graham said. “Those are never easy decisions, but they’re good decisions to have to be making this time of the year.”
Two in net
Rookie goaltender Landon Bow finished the regular season with the best goals-against average in the ECHL (2.08), so it’s no surprise that Graham turned to Bow to start the first two games.
But Graham has also expressed plenty of confidence in Branden Komm. And why not? Komm finished the regular season in the top 10 in the ECHL in save percentage and goals-against average. He had two shutouts in his final three starts (all wins). Graham chose not to disclose who will start Game 3.
“Starting with our goaltending, all the way out the defense has been really good,” Faust said. “I think it’s just been the whole team buying in and working hard, and it’s been paying off.”
Who: Colorado at Idaho
What: ECHL Mountain Division semifinals; best-of-seven series tied 1-1
When: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Where: CenturyLink Arena, Downtown Boise
Radio/TV: KTIK 1350 AM / Cable One channel 72
Tickets: CenturyLink box office, IdahoSteelheads.com or call 331-8497.