Everything seems to be exaggerated in playoff hockey.
The goals are more exciting. The fans are louder. The penalties impact the game more.
And in the end, the final loss is completely devastating.
The Colorado Eagles defeated the Idaho Steelheads defeated 6-3 on Saturday night at CenturyLink Arena. The win gave the Eagles a 4-1 series win in the ECHL Mountain Division semifinals.
“This one is going to sting for a while,” Steelheads forward Rob Linsmayer said.
The loss marked the third season in a row that Idaho has been eliminated in the first round of the ECHL playoffs.
“There are always things you can second-guess,” Idaho coach Neil Graham said. “But we didn’t point any fingers all year, and we’re not going to start now. I’m proud of the group, and I’m proud of the way they battled.”
Rookie goalie Landon Bow got the starting nod from Graham in the first four games, but Graham turned to the more experienced Branden Komm for Game 5.
Komm, however, was unable to provide the spark Graham had hoped for in the early stages Saturday, and Idaho found itself down 3-0 less than 12 minutes into the contest.
Game over, right?
Well, not exactly.
This is playoff hockey, after all. And the Steelheads were fighting to keep their season alive.
“We got down 3-0, and all of a sudden we start battling even harder,” Graham said. “It speaks to the character of that group.”
Rookie All-Star defenseman Travis Walsh got Idaho on the scoreboard with 59 seconds remaining in the first period. Colorado answered back, but then Idaho got second-period goals from Joe Basaraba and Kyle Jean to make it a 4-3 game.
The crowd urged Idaho to tie the game, but the Steelheads found themselves trying to kill off a 5-on-3 power play late in the second period. Former Steelhead and current thorn in Idaho’s side Alex Belzile scored his fifth goal of the series to give Colorado a 5-3 lead heading into the final period.
There would be no big comeback on this night, as there was in Game 4. Idaho led that contest 4-0 before Colorado rallied for three goals in the final minutes of the third period and a game-winning goal 41 seconds into overtime.
That proved to be a pivotal turnaround to the series.
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Colorado coach Aaron Schneekloth said. “It was a big momentum shift for our hockey team.”
That shift lifted the Eagles — and doomed the Steelheads.
“It easily could have been 3-1 us (in the series) instead of 3-1 them, if we had played 5 minutes of hockey differently,” Linsmayer said, referring to Friday’s Game 4 loss and an overtime loss in Game 2 at Colorado. “It’s just missed opportunities.”
Those missed opportunities will haunt the Steelheads in the offseason.
“It hurts,” Idaho defenseman Joe Faust said. “But I’m proud to be a part of this group of guys.”
That sentiment was echoed repeatedly in and out of Idaho’s locker room after their season came to a bitter end.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” Graham said. “But this was the best team I’ve been around. I’m not taking anything away from the other teams I’ve coached and played on, but there was something special about this group and the way we cared for each other. … Unfortunately, we fell short in the postseason.”