LOVELAND, Colo.--The Colorado Eagles entered Wednesday's Western Conference Finals matchup against the visiting Toledo Walleye looking to take a series lead, and Colorado Avalanche prospects Sergei Boikov, Julien Nantel and Mason Geertsen wanted to continue contributing to their team's success.
Both things happened at Budweiser Events Center as the home team took a 2-1 advantage in the round after winning 4-3 in overtime.
"It was a hard-fought game. I thought we were doing well the whole game," Geertsen said of the victory. "We dominated, I thought, and then they got some lucky bounces and some power-play goals. Then overtime came and happened and we got her done. We finished her off, and it doesn't matter how you win as long as you win."
The first period was a high-scoring affair, with both teams registering two tallies apiece to skate into intermission deadlocked 2-2. The Eagles came out flying and got on the scoreboard just 14 seconds into the game when Shawn St-Amant tipped a point shot from Matt Register out of the air and into the netting behind Toledo goaltender Jeff Lerg for his fourth marker of the postseason.
Video: Geertsen on Eagles' Game 3 Win in WCF
The Walleye responded with the next two tallies to own a 2-1 lead by the 14:36 mark of the frame, but Colorado wasn't content to trail after 20 minutes of action. Alex Belzile potted the equalizer with 2:34 remaining in the first, tying the game when he buried a backhander past Lerg.
"In the first two games, the first team that scored a goal lost the game," Nantel said after the contest. "So it was not an advantage for us. After the first goal, we said to ourselves that we have to keep working, keep working hard, shoot on net and have speed. We have some good leaders."
The second period featured back-and-forth play from both teams, and while neither squad scored, the Eagles carried the play and outshot Toledo 10-3. It would have been easy for Colorado easy to be frustrated by the lack of conversion, but the club stuck with the game plan nonetheless.
"I think in the third period, we checked the board and saw we had eight or nine shots more than them," Nantel said. "So it's kind of frustrating, but the thing I remember in the first round versus Idaho is it was the same kind of game. In the first game, we had a lot of shots, a lot of opportunities. The coach, in the first period and the second period, said that we have to keep working hard."
Video: Sergei Boikov on Eagles' Game 3 Win in WCF
"We talked to the guys and everybody just wanted to play hard," added Boikov. "Everybody wants to win the [Kelly] Cup, so we just never quit and we kept going."
Boikov looked to be the hero the squad needed in the final frame, breaking the stalemate 3:31 into the stanza with a shot from the point that saw its way through traffic and into the back of the net. The marker was his first of the postseason and gave Colorado a much coveted lead.
"I just try to put the pucks at the net. That's what the coaches asked for, and that's what I did, and it was a success," Boikov said of the play.
The lead wouldn't last, however, as the Walleye evened things up 3-3 with a power-play goal while Colorado captain Sean Zimmerman was serving two minutes for roughing.
Neither team could end the match in regulation, so off to overtime and bonus hockey they went. Early in the extra frame, Nantel snuck into the slot, caught a feed and fired a shot on Lerg. The Avs prospect then collected his own rebound on the play and again tried to end the contest, but Lerg was still in position.
With the momentum tilting in favor of the Eagles, the squad regrouped in the offensive zone and Nantel circled around, caught a pass from Belzile and buried it into the netting to seal the win.
Video: Julien Nantel on his GWG in Game 3 of WCF
"It was a good pass from [Luke] Salazar, a good chance. Two shots quick. The goalie did a good save on that," Nantel said of the first sequence. "We said to ourselves before the OT, in the room, the goal is not going to be a pretty one. It's more going to be like a shot from the blue line or stuff like that. It was fun to have a goal.
"Before the overtime, we talked about it and it was funny because the coach said to me, 'You're going to be the hero.' I think another guy said it to me [too]. So just a feeling like that. It's pretty fun to have this one."
Contributions from his friends, and fellow Avalanche prospects, is just the kind of thing that makes a win even more special for Geertsen.
"I'm rooming with Sergei right now, so I was pretty pumped for him. I think I was the most pumped guy on the bench," he said. "Then Nantel also, he's a good friend of mine too. So it was good to see."
Nantel spent the game playing alongside Matt Garbowsky and Belzile, and together they combined for two goals and three assists. Belzile leads the ECHL in goals (13), assists (10) and points (23) through 12 postseason contests and has now recorded at least one tally in 10 of his last 11 matches.
"He's a very good player. He's a smart player, good shot," Nantel said of his linemate. "He's a very good passer. So every time I'm on the ice and he has the puck, I just have to open the jets and he's going to find me, for sure."
Belzile is one of four players--goaltender Kent Simpson, defenseman Sam Jardine and forward St-Amant--currently under contract with the San Antonio Rampage.
The Eagles host the next two games in the best-of-seven series, which features a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday.