When the Steelheads arrived in Allen a week and a half ago, the focus was on getting off to a good start. Tonight at Allen Events Center the storyline will shift to the prospects of a strong finish, as the Steelheads look to hand the Allen Americans their first playoff series loss since the spring of 2013 and punch their own ticket to the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.
And while a second win in the Lone Star State would be the most meaningful of this series, it does not mean the mindset within the locker room has changed.
“It’s like every other game in the playoffs that we play,” said defenseman Shawn Boutin, with two points and an even-rating on Idaho’s top defense pairing in this series. “We have to win and we treat every game like a must-win. You have to play with urgency if you’re going to finish them off.”
The defending Kelly Cup Champion Americans certainly don’t figure to go down easily. The Steelheads have won back-to-back games after falling in Games 2 and 3, but the Americans have not lost three straight games in regulation all season and were 22-10-4 on home ice.
So is there an added challenge in putting the Americans away in their home rink?
“I think so,” answered forward Joe Basaraba. “They’re going to bring their best tonight and you wouldn’t expect it to be anything less. We’ll see what kind of crowd they bring in, but it should certainly be exciting.”
The Steelheads will certainly be buoyed by their performance on Saturday night in Game 5, a 7-1 win in which Idaho got goal scoring from six different players. Riley Gill, who had given up just 5 goals in his first three appearances of the series, was beaten for two goals in the first five minutes of Game 5 and replaced by rookie Jake Hildebrand. The rookie would go on to surrender five goals the rest of the way under an Idaho onslaught.
“I think we’ve always been getting our chances and that night they just seemed to be going in for us,” said Basaraba, who had a three-point night on Saturday and is tied for the team-lead in playoff scoring with six points. “Every so often when you’re working hard and doing the right things, those nights are going to happen.”
The Steelheads also won the special teams battle, just as they had done in Game 1 at Allen Events Center, to power their win. Special teams success will go a long way in helping Idaho close out the series, with Idaho outscoring the Americans 8-4 in the series at 5-on-5, not mentioning the Steelheads’ two shorthanded goals.
Allen’s power play has scored in three of the series’ five games. The Steelheads have countered that attack much more effectively in the last two games. Instead it will be the Americans’ attack 5-on-5, right from the drop of the puck, that the Steelheads will need to respect.
The whole series to this point has had a “punch-counterpunch” rhythm, and the Steelheads knocked Allen to the mat at CenturyLink Arena. They’ll have to land one more blow to finish off the Americans.
“They always come out strong. We’ll have to expect that and come out stronger,” said Boutin.