LOVELAND, Colo.--The Colorado Eagles don't seem to mind playing in tight games that require overtime. They're now 5-0 this postseason in contests that go beyond regulation.
The only thing the Colorado Avalanche's ECHL minor-league affiliate needed on Friday was a rally to get there.
Matt Garbowsky scored his second goal of the contest with 2.5 seconds left in the third period and Matt Register tallied 10:52 into the second overtime to lead the Eagles to a 3-2 victory over the South Carolina Stingrays in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals at the Budweiser Events Center.
Colorado was scoreless on its first six power-play opportunities of the night, but the club made its last one count after South Carolina's Chris Archambault slashed the leg of Darryl Bootland at 10:24 of the second OT. Register then ended the outing 24 seconds later with a shot from the high slot that made its way through traffic and past Stingrays goaltender Parker Milner.
The Eagles were coming off a Western Conference Finals matchup against the Toledo Walleye that featured two extra sessions, including a triple-OT thriller that lasted four hours and 45 minutes on May 19. The one on Friday took a speedy four hours and five minutes to complete.
"We're already used to playing long overtimes," said Colorado Avalanche prospect Sergei Boikov, who scored in the previous game that went past regulation for the Eagles. "Before this, we played [a three-overtime game] so we were ready for it."
Colorado controlled possession for much of the first 60 minutes, but they needed a late comeback against the Stingrays to go up 1-0 in the series. South Carolina is in its ECHL-record fifth finals and is tied for the all-time league record with three titles.
Steven McParland gave the Stingrays their first lead of the night with 2:33 left in the third period, as he easily tapped in the puck into an open net after receiving a perfect cross-ice pass from Derek Arnold.
The Eagles pulled goaltender Lukas Hafner for the extra attacker with 1:36 left in the third, but they couldn't generate many quality shots up close--that was until the very end.
Register fired one last shot from the right circle as the final few seconds on the game clock were about to expire, and Garbowsky got a piece of the puck with his stick to redirect it into the far side of the net, setting off a frenzy among the crowd of 5,289 mostly dressed in Eagles gold.
Garbowsky had opened the scoring in the contest with 3:49 left in the first period. His initial shot was denied, but the puck ricocheted right back to him in the slot and he buried the rebound chance.
Avalanche prospect Julien Nantel got the primary assist on Garbowsky's first goal. Nantel also had three shots and a plus-2 rating while on one of the Eagles' top forward groups in the game.
Colorado outshot South Carolina 27-15 through the first 40 minutes of play, but the team couldn't build on its lead and was back to square one after Scott Tanski recorded his first tally of the postseason for the Stingrays midway through the second stanza.
Moments before South Carolina took the 2-1 lead in the final minutes of the third period, Boikov left for the team's locker room after getting hit in the head by the puck while sliding on the ice to break up a pass. He did return midway through the first overtime and finished the contest.
"It's part of the game. It was worth it," Boikov said afterward.
Mason Geertsen, another Avalanche prospect, had one shot and two penalty minutes, but his biggest contribution might have come on the penalty kill in extra time.
With South Carolina on the power play early in the second OT and with control of the puck in the offensive zone, the Eagles found themselves in a predicament as two of their players had lost their sticks. As time was ticking away on the man advantage, Geertsen had a key block before Colorado regained possession and cleared the puck out, allowing the squad to regroup and finish the PK.
"I just tried to get as big as I could and pray that it hit me, and it did," Geertsen recalled of the sequence. "We then got it out, which was a good play by [Cam] Maclise to get it out."
South Carolina went scoreless on its seven man advantages.
"I think we are pretty composed on the PK," Geertsen said. "We know what we have to do. It's to be hard and get pucks out. I think that was a big key tonight."
While the Eagles seemed like the better team in regulation, it was the Stingrays that appeared to have more energy during the first overtime session. South Carolina outshot Colorado 10-6 in the period after the Eagles had dominated the statistic through regulation, with a 34-23 edge in shots on goal.
However, the second OT belonged to the Eagles as they only allowed one shot on Hafner, who finished with 31 saves and made several key stops in the final three frames to keep the score tied.
"I thought in the first overtime, we didn't move our feet very well," Nantel said. "We were kind of soft. After that in the second overtime, we were moving our feet, good speed. That is what we have to do next game at the start."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven championship series is Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Loveland.