By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2009
VICTORIA, British Columbia – Nobody saw this coming, least of all the Idaho Steelheads. And maybe not even the Victoria Salmon Kings.
The West Division third-seed Salmon Kings took a 3-0 lead over the second-seed Steelheads in the best-of-seven opening-round ECHL Kelly Cup playoff series after a 9-2 blowout victory last night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” said Victoria forward Shaun Landolt. “But we did come out hard.”
The nine goals matched the Salmon Kings’ all-time playoff goals record, tying the nine the club scored in a first-round game against Alaska in 2007.
The Memorial Centre music guy, who always has an uncanny knack of selecting just the right tune at the right moment, went with Mambo No. 5 at the end of the first period. The Salmon Kings had five goals on just nine shots on the stunned Steelheads in taking a 5-1 lead during the wild opening period, which featured pretty much everything before an enthusiastic towel-waving crowd of 4,086.
Among the happenings, Darrell Hay of the Steelheads ended up flipping into his own players’ box after missing a bodycheck on Landolt. Later in the first period, a pane of Plexiglas shattered in the Victoria end after Victoria’s Scott Howes and Idaho forward Bryan McGregor crashed into it.
It was a fitting metaphor for the series to date between the Vancouver Canucks-affiliate Salmon Kings and Dallas Stars-affiliate Steelies. The Salmon Kings have absolutely battered former Cowichan Valley Capitals junior McGregor, who had 30 points in the final nine regular-season games but who has only two points in this series after a goal and an assist Wednesday.
“The first period was huge for us,” said Salmon Kings defenceman and game first-star Patrick Coulombe.
“We came out strong and we also scored on some lucky bounces. But that’s the playoffs and anything can happen. We have to turn the page on this immediately because we know they will be very upset and coming back hard in Game 4 [Friday at 7 p.m. at the Memorial Centre].”
The first-period lead, however, brought back eerie memories of last year’s second-round playoff Game 3 in Salt Lake City when the Salmon Kings blew a 5-1 lead in losing to the Utah Grizzlies. A dispirited Victoria team never recovered from that turning-point collapse and lost the series.
“Yeah, that went through my mind a little bit,” admitted Coulombe, a three-year Salmon Kings veteran.
But there would be no folding on this night as the Salmon Kings power-play poured it on with two goals in a three-goal second period. At that point, the scoreboard read 8-1 for Victoria on 17 shots as Idaho goalies Matt Climie and Rejean Beauchemin had a horror show of an outing.
Idaho outshot Victoria 30-27.
“We’re all working together and we stuck to our game plan,” said Victoria forward Scott Howes, who scored twice.
“But the fourth game will be the toughest.”
That thought was echoed by Landolt.
“Idaho is a team that is not going to quit. We have to be ready for them Friday,” he said.