By Chadd Cripe
Special to the Long Beach Press-Telegram
BOISE, Idaho — The Ice Dogs dethroned the champs Sunday night at the Bank of America Centre. And in the process, they looked like contenders to become champs themselves.
The Ice Dogs buried the defending Kelly Cup champion Idaho Steelheads, 7-2, to win their best-of-5, first-round ECHL West Division playoff series, 3-1.
The Ice Dogs, who finished second in the West in the regular season, will face either first-place Alaska or fourth-place Bakersfield in the division finals. That series will begin in Long Beach, probably Friday, regardless of tonight’s victor in Game 5 of the Alaska-Bakersfield series, according to Ice Dogs coach Malcolm Cameron.
The Ice Dogs clinched the series with opportunistic offense and stifling defense. They built a 2-0 lead in the first period, a 3-0 lead in the second and a 7-0 lead in the third.
Chris Kenady recorded two goals and an assist, Michael Lambert scored twice and Christian Larrivee added a goal and an assist. The Dogs needed just five assists on their seven goals, with two coming unassisted.
“I like to coach teams that have a lot of guys that I call game-breakers,” Cameron said. “Especially in the playoffs, when chances are few and far between, when you get them you’ve got to have guys that can finish right away.”
You also need a standout goaltender, and Cameron has that in late-season pickup Sebastien Centomo, who snuffed out 33 shots in Game 4.
“Even when we had good chances, it seemed like he was there to shut us down,” Idaho forward Ben Keup said.
The Ice Dogs scored mostly by capitalizing on mistakes by the sloppy Steelheads.
Idaho defenseman Petr Suchanek passed the puck to Evan Cheverie, who beat goalie Frank Doyle at 3:45 of the first period.
Defenseman Dan Vandermeer was tripped behind the Idaho net to set up the second goal. He looked for a call while Kenady set up in front of the net and deflected Cheverie’s shot into the net for a 2-0 lead at 8:01 of the first.
At that point, the Ice Dogs dropped into a defense resembling a five-man penalty kill repeatedly clearing their zone.
“We’re a team that more than any other team in this league has blown three-and four-goal leads,” Cameron said. “The last six weeks of the regular season and obviously here in the playoffs we really focused on sticking with a game plan regardless of the score, regardless of the situation.”
Long Beach extended its lead to 3-0 at 12:17 of the second. David Bararuk’s shot went wide of the net and slid all the way out of the Ice Dogs’ zone to set up a transition play. Kenady flipped a no-look pass from the corner to the goal mouth, where Larrivee banged in his own rebound.
Cameron knew his team was in a dominant position with both teams fighting fatigue. It was the third game in as many nights.
“Getting that third goal was huge for us,” he said. “Once we got that third goal, for them to have to score four in the third period to come back was going to be awfully tough with the gas level they had.”
The Dogs opened the third with a power-play goal by Kenady 19 seconds in. The carnage continued at 1:35. A fanned pass by a Steelhead allowed Matt Noga to get loose in transition and beat Doyle top shelf.
Lambert tacked on back-to-back goals for a 7-0 lead.