Playoff hockey is all about depth and timely scoring — two qualities that have been strengths for the Idaho Steelheads this season.
But as Idaho has fallen into a 2-1 deficit in its opening-round ECHL playoff series versus Colorado, the balance has been missing. Through three games, only the top line of Jefferson Dahl, Rob Linsmayer and Will Merchant (11 combined points) has generated consistent offense. That stands in sharp contrast to a regular season that saw nine players score at least 10 goals.
“The goals aren’t coming easy right now, but we know we have what it takes in our locker room,” Idaho coach Neil Graham said after a 4-2 loss at home Wednesday night. “When pucks aren’t going in, you have to simplify, put shots on net, and start generating second and third whacks. But this is a close group of guys, and I believe we’ll figure it out.”
After winning Game 1, Idaho has dropped two straight. Dahl scored his second goal of the series Wednesday, but he had to be helped off the ice after taking a nasty shot to the back of the head from Colorado’s Sean Zimmerman in the second period. With their captain’s status uncertain, the sense of urgency increases for the rest of the team.
“It’s tough,” said Linsmayer, who leads Idaho with five playoff points after registering two assists Wednesday. “It’s frustrating to see your leader go down on a hit like that, and hopefully he can play [in Game 4]. But if not, that’s why you have depth. Someone else is going to have to step up.”
Idaho carried the play for most of the first two games on the road, but Game 3 was a one-sided affair. Colorado had more jump from the outset as the Steelheads struggled with turnovers and failed to connect cleanly on passes.
Dahl’s power-play blast was the lone bright spot of a first period that saw Idaho get outshot 14-4 and surrender two goals on defensive zone giveaways.
“That was one of our sloppiest games of the season,” Graham said. “Collectively, we weren’t good. But the good news is, we can all pick each other up, because we can all be a lot better, and we’ll make sure we are on Friday.”
The second period brought more of the same. A power-play tally by Kellan Lain gave the Steelheads life, with the deficit just 3-2, but former Idaho forward Alex Belzile scored a power-play goal for Colorado just before the second-period horn.
The Eagles finished with a 40-21 edge in shots. Idaho did have a few quality chances late, including a point-blank try from Anthony Luciani that got stopped.
Luciani, who led the Steelheads with 31 regular season goals, is trying to break through with his first playoff tally.
“I feel like it’s going to come,” Luciani said. “You just can’t get too negative, and when you get opportunities, you’ve got to make do.”