By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
VICTORIA, British Columbia – The Idaho Steelheads will have to stickhandle through the ECHL record book in order to win their first-round Kelly Cup playoff series against the Victoria Salmon Kings.
In fact, the Steelheads will have to create a whole new chapter and write the Salmon Kings into it.
No team in league history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. The corollary, of course, is that of the 14 teams that have previously taken 3-0 leads in the 21-year history of the ECHL, none have blown them.
Yet, the West Division third-seed Salmon Kings, who lead second-seed Idaho by a 3-0 margin, say they are not taking anything for granted heading into Game 4 Friday at 7 p.m. at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. They don’t want to be part of any newly added storyline in the league history books.
“The Steelheads beat us six games out of seven in the regular season and we are not complacent about anything,” said hard-nosed Victoria forward Olivier Labelle, who has scored in each of the first three games.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s 0-0 and we’re going to leave everything we have on the ice. It doesn’t count until you get to [win] No. 4.”
Even in North American major-league sports history, only three teams have rebounded from 3-0 series deficits. If the Steelheads aren’t fans of the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders or 2004 Boston Red Sox, they should be. The Salmon Kings, meanwhile, want to avoid the ignominy of becoming the ECHL’s version of the 1942 Detroit Red Wings, 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins or 2004 New York Yankees.
It’s a cliché, say the Idaho players, but they simply have to take it one game at a time. They, of course, have no option. The 2-3-2 format, however, puts an interesting spin on matters. The Steelheads’ goal Friday is to win and force some pressure back on the Salmon Kings, who would then have to win in Game 5 at home tomorrow to avoid having the series close out in Boise.
“We have to keep that killer instinct and bury them early because we don’t want this thing to go on,” said Salmon Kings defenceman Gary Gladue, the former WHL Prince George Cougars junior, who is up 3-0 in a series for the first time in his hockey career.
“That’s why [Friday’s] game is huge for us. We have to play hard and stick to our game plan.”
The series has been a head-scratcher, particularly for fans and media in Boise, many of whom looked at Idaho’s season record of 6-1 against Victoria and wrote off the Canucks-affiliate Salmon Kings as pretenders. Some in Boise were even talking about another Kelly Cup title – which would be the third in six years for the successful franchise. But since happily hoisting aloft the Kelly Cup during a muggy June night in 2007 at Dayton, Ohio, the Steelheads have gone a baffling 0-7 in playoff games the past two years.
If the Dallas Stars farm team hopes to avoid a second straight first-round exit, it’ll now have to be one for the books.