Sports

Idaho Steelheads dominate pivotal Game 5 at home

Experience and veteran leadership often carry the day during crunch-time playoff hockey.

Saturday night at CenturyLink Arena, the Idaho Steelheads turned to some postseason newcomers and earned a huge victory.

Kruise Reddick, Taylor Peters and Radoslav Illo each scored in the first 6 minutes, 36 seconds of the game as Idaho steamrolled defending ECHL champion Allen 7-1 in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals.

“It was great to see some different guys step up early for us,” Idaho coach Neil Graham said. “Those were huge goals for us. You need a balanced attack to win in the playoffs.”

Reddick and Illo scored their first professional playoff goals. Peters added his first as a Steelhead.

Idaho leads the best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 set for Tuesday in Allen, Texas.

Game 7, if necessary, is Wednesday at Allen.

Game 5 was one-sided from the start. Reddick opened the scoring 2 1/2 minutes in with an absolute beauty, singlehandedly rushing end-to-end, stickhandling through the legs of defenseman David Makowski and beating goalie Riley Gill through the legs.

“I thought we were really well-prepared tonight,” Reddick said. “It felt great to get one early, and then the flood gates just kind of opened from there.”

The buzz from Reddick’s goal was still going when Peters made it 2-0 less than 2 minutes later. Emil Molin created a turnover in the corner and fed Peters in front of the net, and the big winger’s low wrister chased Gill from the game after facing just three shots.

“Emotion is so big in the playoffs,” Peters said. “Kruise’s goal really set the tone for the game. Guys fed off that, and we never looked back.”

Backup goalie Jake Hildebrand didn’t fare much better. Minutes after he replaced Gill, Reddick and Illo orchestrated a sweet give-and-go, with Illo burying a sharp-angle slap shot to give Idaho a 3-0 lead.

Andre Bouvet-Morrissette — another playoff rookie — made it 4-0 later in the first period, converting a shorthanded breakaway for his second goal of the series.

“Over the first four games, Allen really came out hard early,” Graham said. “It was important for us to try and dictate our style of play. I didn’t expect to get four (in the first), but it was nice to see our guys keep pushing.”

With a virtually insurmountable lead, Idaho went to work on a power play that has been up-and-down throughout the series. The Steelheads, who converted 14 percent of their power-plays in Games 1 through 4, struggled on their first three opportunities Saturday before breaking through on captain Carson McMillan’s second-period tally.

Idaho struck twice more during a 5-minute power play in the third. After Allen’s Vincent Arseneau received a major penalty and was ejected for throwing a high hit at Illo’s head, defensemen Tommy Fallen and Shawn Boutin responded with goals.

“Our power play has been hot and cold,” Graham said. “For us to get three tonight was big, but every game starts from scratch. We’ll have to continue to work and grind and find a way to get those goals.”

Things got predictably chippy late as the defending champions were clearly unhappy about being pushed to the brink of elimination. But the Steelheads brushed off several cheap shots, none worse than Arseneau’s run at Illo, and avoided unnecessary penalties.

“You never expect to win a 7-1 game,” Peters said. “We knew it would get physical, but we also knew the only way for them to get back in the game was for us to take discipline penalties. Coach does a good job keeping guys calm and keeping us focused on playing the right way.”

Now, the Steelheads have their sights set on a series-clinching victory.

“We don’t have anything to celebrate yet,” Graham said. “But our guys have learned how to win hockey games over the course of this season. We’ve got to go on the road and do it one more time.”

Notes: This was the first game of the series not decided by a 3-1 score…Idaho goalie Philippe Desrosiers made 20 saves, allowing only Greger Hanson’s second-period power-play goal…Seven players scored goals and nine recorded points for Idaho…Illo, Kyle Jean, Molin and Bouvet-Morrissette each were slow to get up after heavy hits or slashes, but all four players returned to the ice for the Steelheads.

Idaho Steelheads vs. Allen Americans

All times Mountain

April 14

Idaho 3, Allen 1

April 16

Allen 3, Idaho 1

April 20

Allen 3, Idaho 1

Friday

Idaho 3, Allen 1

Saturday

Idaho 7, Allen 1

Tuesday

Idaho at Allen

6:05 p.m.

Wed.*

Idaho at Allen

6:05 p.m.

*If necessary

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