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Steelheads Getting it Done in Close Games

Thursday, March 9th
Steelheads Getting it Done in Close Games

There were 23 seconds left on the clock last Saturday when Rob Linsmayer hit the empty net in Rapid City to give the Steelheads some breathing room on their way to a 4-2 win over the Rush. It was the Steelheads’ third win in a row at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, and their seventh win in eight games on their road trip. And while Idaho posted a dominant record in their time away from CenturyLink Arena, nearly every game on that swing came down to the closing minutes of the final period, with the Steelheads finding a way to get the job done.

It’s no secret that a team that plans to go deep into the playoffs will have to feel right at home in one-goal games, as competition gets stiffer and scoring chances shrink. With strong goaltending and timely scoring, the Steelheads have had that knack in recent weeks.

“We never quit. We believe in the guys in our room and they believe in each other,” said Assistant Coach Everett Sheen. “So if we’re down a goal or two, it’s not the best situation but it’s also not the worst. We know we can score goals and if we lock things down defensively, we’ll be able to come back and find a way to win.”

The Steelheads trailed by a goal heading into the third periods of both Friday and Saturday night’s victories, with Joe Faust and Anthony Luciani scoring on Friday night to overcome the gap and Linsmayer and Brian Nugent doing the job on Saturday.

“There wasn’t a doubt in my mind when we were trailing over the weekend that we were going to come back and win,” said defenseman Aaron Harstad, who came back from his stint with AHL Texas in time for the final two games of the trip.

“That confidence is something special and that’s what separates winning teams from losing teams. Even if you’re down a goal or two, you don’t lose that confidence in the locker room.”

That confidence hasn’t only applied to comebacks, as the Steelheads have done the job protecting one-goal leads as well. After opening their trip in Utah with an 8-2 victory, the Steelheads played seven consecutive one-goal games (excluding empty-net goals), including two 1-0 wins. Even their lone defeat in Missouri was a one-goal game into the final minute before the Mavericks closed things out with an empty net goal.

The Steelheads hope to be readying themselves for playoff hockey, and gaining experience in these close games against desperate teams can certainly translate to late April and May.

“All those games are tight checking games and if you find yourself down a goal heading into the third period of Game 7, you have to have that belief that you can come back and win, “ said Sheen. “In the same breath when you’re up a goal in the same situation you have to have the belief that you can close it down and get the win.”

It’s easier to get that done when you can rely on your special teams units, and the Steelheads and Toledo Walleye are the only teams in the ECHL who can boast that they rank in the top five teams in the league in both categories.

The Steelheads power play sits fourth in the ECHL and has been in the Top-5 for much of the season. The Steelheads had killed off 34-of-35 penalties prior to surrendering two power play goals on Saturday, a stretch that launched them to the third spot on the PK list.

“We have the right personnel, whether it’s guys on just penalty kill or guys doing power play. They both pull for each other,” said Sheen. “When PK guys get a big blocked shot, it’s the power play guys who are the first on their feet cheering for them. It does play a huge role in a team’s success but if you’re scoring one or two power play goals a night and also keeping their power play off the board, you’re usually going to come out on top.”

Now the Steelheads face another team fighting for a playoff spot. After facing the Grizzlies and Mavericks, both surging but on the outside looking in, the Steelheads face the Cincinnati Cyclones. Cincinnati has won three in a row and eight of the last ten, and still find themselves just one point up on fifth-place South Carolina in the South Division.

“We need to come out hot in first periods and put a stop to some of their excitement,” said Harstad. “But we had a 7-1-0 road trip and these are really important games and we want to keep improving moving towards playoffs.”

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