LOVELAND, Colo. – On Wednesday night, the full schedule of the first round of the AHL playoffs finally kicked off. In the Pacific Division, the Colorado Eagles saw themselves matched up against the Henderson Silver Knights in a three-game series where the smallest mistake could prove costly to a team’s entire season.
Interestingly, the Silver Knights did not receive goaltender Logan Thompson from an idle Vegas Golden Knights parent club. Instead, they saw Jiri Patera in net trying to slow down this high powered Eagles offensive attack. For the Eagles, as expected, young netminder Justus Annunen made the start.
Colorado’s offensive talent was on display in this one, powering the Eagles over the Silver Knights 5-2 and taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
This one got off to a rough start for the Silver Knights, as the Eagles took the lead just 30 seconds into the game. Jordan Gross, First Team AHL All-Star, let a shot go from the blue line off a faceoff win that was tipped home by Eagles captain Jayson Megna out front for the early lead, getting the players and fans involved in this one immediately.
Patera was forced to continue fighting off some high quality chances by the Eagles that opened up the ice early and often, and made some terrific saves to keep Henderson within one in this one, especially during a 4 minute double minor penalty kill. With Colorado’s Keaton Middleton sitting for crosschecking next, the Silver Knights had a chance to tie. Instead, on the counter-attack, it was Mikhail Maltsev streaking down the wing and feeding Megna for the deflection past Patera, and the shorthanded goal put the Eagles up 2-0. The Silver Knights were able to escape into the second with the score holding, even if the deficit felt larger with how the Eagles were skating.
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Colorado continued the pressure into the middle frame, keeping the pace and peppering Patera with high quality chances from all over the ice. They attacked on the rush, they got traffic to the net and continued the mindset of the “power-kill” when down a man, picking their spots to put pressure on the Silver Knights even when down a man. Despite taking 8 minutes of penalties in the second, the Eagles outshot the Silver Knights 18-8 in the period.
Both Patera and Annunen were perfect in the second, setting up a critical final frame with the 2-0 score favoring the home team.
It wouldn’t take long for Henderson to get one back. Just three minutes in, a turnover at the Colorado blue line gave the puck away to Paul Cotter, who fired a heavy wrist shot from the high slot that Annunen got a piece of. It was not enough as it dribbled through the equipment and over the goal line, pulling Henderson within one.
Just two minutes later Colorado responded to restore the two goal lead – Roland McKeown rushed down the boards and fed a perfect pass to Jean-Luc Foudy just above the hash marks, whose one timer beat Patera to push the lead to 3-1.
Henderson wasn’t going away quietly though, as Sven Baertschi got behind the Eagles defense at 8:21 of the period and roofed a shot over Annunen’s glove to again pull within one.
Annunen remained perfect for the rest of the period, turning away some tricky shots through traffic and getting support from his teammates on quick zone exits that refused to yield heavy zone time for the attacking Silver Knights. With Patera pulled, Henderson tried desperately to get another goal back but ended up yielding empty-net goals to Maltsev and Kiefer Sherwood that would see the final score at 5-2.
Annunen made 22 saves for his first career postseason win in the AHL, while Patera stopped 33 of 36 shots.
- Jayson Megna – 2 goals
- Jean-Luc Foudy – 1 goal
- Roland McKeown – 3 assists
- Despite a strong stretch run to end the season for Vegas, Thompson wasn’t loaned to Henderson to continue playing hockey this season. Patera, however, showed that he was capable of standing strong in net and taking the next two games of this series – but he’s going to need more help from his teammates to do so. Henderson capitalized on catching the Eagles in a couple situations in the third but needs to be more consistent in attacking the defense if they want to secure two wins and keep their season going.
- For the Eagles – keep doing what you’re doing. Their high flying style was on display tonight with a massive advantage in shots, chances, and time of possession. Their All-Stars played to their level and they got support from the rest of the lineup. That same kind of energy ought to propel them to the next round and a possible date with the Bakersfield Condors.
Game 2 is Friday night at 7:05 pm MST. If Henderson responds with a win, Game 3 will be played on Saturday at 7:05 MST. All three games will be played in Colorado, with Henderson designated as the “home team” for Friday’s game for purposes of the last change.
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