The Steelheads began their hockey postseason on the road, splitting two games against the defending ECHL champion Allen Americans.
Now they want more.
“Once you win that first game, obviously you get a little greedy,” Idaho coach Neil Graham said. “But our goal wasn’t to go 16-0 in the playoffs. We’re not naïve enough to think that could happen. So the important thing now is how do you bounce back from a loss.”
The fifth-seeded Steelheads will try to do that Wednesday night, when they host the fourth-seeded Americans in Game 3 at CenturyLink Arena. Idaho, which seized home-ice advantage, also hosts Games 4 and 5 on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Steelheads would love to finish the series at home, but doing so would be a monumental task.
Allen’s roster features two of the past three Kelly Cup playoff MVPs: goalie Riley Gill and forward Greger Hanson. Throw in Chad Costello, this season’s MVP and top point-scorer in the league, and it’s easy to see Allen is a worthy opponent.
“They have some dynamic pieces, so they’re a good hockey team,” Graham said. “No doubt about it.”
Three key elements will have to shine if the Steelheads are going to knock off the defending champs: goaltending, leadership and balanced scoring.
“Those are three big things that will help us be successful, absolutely,” Graham said.
Philippe Desrosiers started the first two games, so expect Idaho’s playoff fortunes to rest upon his shoulders. After all, the two times Idaho won the Kelly Cup, the goalie was named the playoff MVP (Dan Ellis in 2004 and Steve Silverthorn in 2007).
“That’s what’s so cool about being a goalie in the playoffs,” said Desrosiers, a Quebec native. “I’m just trying to focus on one game at a time, and if I can steal a game, I’d like to do it.”
Desrosiers admittedly struggled at the beginning of his rookie season. But he earned a call-up to the American Hockey League and came back to Idaho an improved goalie.
“I think I’m way better,” Desrosiers said. “At the start of the game, I’m way better. I used to be nervous, but now it’s just hockey, more comfortable.”
Desrosiers stopped 36-of-37 shots in a Game 1 victory and turned aside 31-of-34 shots in the Game 2 loss. He posted a .944 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average in the two games.
“He’s the real deal, and we love having him back there,” Idaho forward Joe Basaraba said.
Hockey can be a fickle sport.
Coaches can’t count on bounces going their way. They watch as the puck glances off the goalpost, determining the difference between a win and a loss.
But leadership and heart can be counted on with the right players. Graham said he has two leaders in captain Carson McMillan and Andrew Carroll.
“What (McMillan) has done for this team this season, I can’t even put it into words,” Graham said. “I don’t know if people expected him to score 100 points because he played in the NHL, but that’s not the type of player that he is.
“His name has sometimes been left out of the discussion, but from what (the coaches) have seen, the small details of the game, you just couldn’t ask more from your captain.”
Graham said Carroll has done it all this season: score, fight, scrap … you name it.
“Andrew Carroll is turning 31 in May,” Graham said. “And he’s bringing so much energy to this team, day in and day out.”
Through the first two games, Idaho has three players with a goal and an assist: Basaraba, Andre Bouvet-Morrissette and Rob Linsmayer.
Those three players, and others such as team MVP Emil Molin and fellow forward Kyle Jean, will need to contribute more offensively.
“We don’t have one natural superstar,” Graham said. “We get points by players working with their linemates and grinding out good hockey.”
Basaraba, for one, expects nothing less of himself.
“It’s crunch time,” said the Florida Panthers’ third-round pick in 2010. “Not only am I supposed to score goals or get points, I also have to block shots and be accountable.
“It’s playoff hockey. … It ain’t easy, but it’s what we live for.”
Idaho Steelheads vs. Allen Americans
ALL TIMES MOUNTAIN
Idaho 3, Allen 1
Allen 3, Idaho 1
Allen at Idaho
Allen at Idaho
Allen at Idaho
Idaho at Allen
Idaho at Allen
▪ Tickets for this week’s games are available at the CenturyLink Arena box office or IdahoSteelheads.com.