LOVELAND - Electric crowd at the Budweiser Event Center for Game 3 in the second round series between the Colorado Eagles and the Allen Americans.
Packed with loyal Eagles fans, the arena buzzed with hopes the Eagles would grab a stranglehold on the series three games to none. The two-time, back-to-back Kelly Cup Champions, the Americans, hit the ice with little dismay despite trailing 2-0 in the series.
First period saw some scoring, largely due to special teams play on both ends of the ice. Both the Americans and the Eagles took penalties in the first that resulted in goals.
Eagles would kill back-to-back penalties before receiving two calls of their own for a 5-on-3.
While on the power play, Eagles defenseman Jake Marto netted the first of the night, his third goal of the playoffs and 11th of the season, on a shot from the point that made its way through traffic in front.
The goal gave the home team some early momentum; however, after a late penalty in the first, Americans' defenseman David Makowski would knot the game 1-1 with 38 seconds left in the period.
In the second, shots and chances remained about even, but Eagles goaltender Lukas Hafner stayed solid between the pipes, holding the Americans scoreless.
Hafner attributed a lot of tonight's successes and past game successes to his defenders and their ability to block shots in front for him.
Eagles found some offense later in the second as high-scoring forward Alex Belzile would net the lone goal in the second period after finding a clear lane for a shot. Belzile has netted nine goals so far this playoffs and is leading the league in both goals and points (17).
"He's leading this team on the ice and his qualities off the ice are just as impactful," Head Coach Aaron Schneekloth told 9NEWS. "He's a great leader on the bench and in the locker room and obviously a big piece of our success."
The right-winger had 27 points in the regular season in only 17 games for the Eagles and has shown to be an offensive powerhouse in the postseason.
Up 2-1 heading into the second, Colorado has lead the Americans after the second period the past two match ups and they've been able to hold them off twice before; however, urgency was now a factor for the Americans.
Twenty seconds into the third period, Americans' forward Chad Costello would bury a loose puck in the crease to put some pressure on the home team and make the score 2-2.
What has made this group of Eagles so successful after early goals, late goals and losses has been their ability to adapt and fill roles. They have players that can play in big games.
"I think part of the reason we've had a lot of success is when we've had call-ups or injuries we haven't brought a lot of guys in," Schneekloth said, "We've had guys fill the roles and get opportunities to play in different situations and I think it leads to everyone being ready at this time of the year."
In the third period, 7:01 left in the game, Eagles forward and Thornton, Colorado native, Luke Salazar found himself one-on-one with Allen's goaltender and net the third goal of the game for the 3-2 lead.
This was Salazar's second goal of the playoffs and a game-winning goal that came at a crucial time.
Down a goal and pouring on what offense they could, the Americans pulled their goaltender, but their last minute efforts would come up short.
Eagles would net the empty-netter for the 4-2 win and a strong hold on the series now up 3-0 heading into Game 4 at home tomorrow.
"We have to expect that Allen is going to throw everything at us," said Scheenkloth. "They're back's up against a wall. They've got a group over there that has more championship experience than anybody in the league and it's going to be the toughest one to win no question."
Colorado faces the Americans for Game 4 tomorrow, Thursday May 4th at 7:05 pm.
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