Eagles use big second period to corral Rampage for 5-3 win

Ryan Loberger

The Eagles are looking to go all-in on the final stretch of the season. With under 20 games remaining every game matters, and the Eagles are trying to make the most of a four-game home stand. Colorado is trying to catch the Tucson Roadrunners for the final playoff spot in the division, entering Tuesday’s contest the Eagles sat just four points behind the last spot.

First-period action was a little slow to start, really tight-checking hockey with only one shot finding its way on net in the games first five minutes. Both teams seemed to be conservative, the first entry on the scoresheet would be two penalties for the Eagles. The Rampage would get two power play chances in the first, but the Eagles would strike shorthanded.

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“I don’t think we were happy with our first period,” said Eagles’ forward Max McCormick. “We came out slow, I don’t think we were as focused as we should’ve been and we were able to reset between periods and came out hard in the second and that was the difference maker.”

Colorado, currently tied with the Syracuse Crunch for the league lead in shorthanded goals with 12, would score their league-leading 13 shorthanded goal to take a 1-0 lead. With 11:53 remaining in the opening frame Eagles’ forward Andrew Agozzino, back form a stint with the Colorado Avalanche, would pick the top right corner on a two-on-one rush just 16 seconds into the penalty kill.

However, the Rampage would answer on the same power play, scoring just over a minute later to tie the game at one. The Rampage would raise the Eagles one by adding another goal off a deflection from forward Jordan Nolan that found the top corner to give the Rampage a 2-1 lead heading into the dressing room.

“I don’t think we were happy with our first period,” Eagles’ forward Max McCormick said. “We came out slow, I don’t think we were as focused as we should’ve been and we were able to reset between periods and came out hard in the second and that was the difference maker.”

The Eagles would call and raise the Rampage, exploding in the second period carried by forward Dominic Toninato who had three points in the second and four points on the night.

The Eagles would tie the game just over three minutes in when forward AJ Greer feathered a pass over to Toninato on another two-on-one rush, Toninato would fire a wicked wrister high glove for the equalizer. Not done there the Eagles would feed off the energy in the building and keep the Rampage pined in their own end and force them to ice the puck with tired players.

Toninato would find his way to the net again after the ensuing face off, and the puck would rebound off the Rampage net-minder and an opportunistic Toninato would bury it to put the Eagles ahead. With the lead and all the momentum, it seemed like the Eagles would be able to escape the period with a 3-2 lead.

A string of Eagles’ penalties in the last 4 minutes would give San Antonio an opportunity to get back in the game. Toninato would continue his hot hand, finding forward Max McCormick who backhanded a laser shot to extend the lead to two goals with just 6 seconds remaining in the period. McCormick scoring his first goal as an Eagle since being traded from the Belleville Senators back on Feb. 7.

“We got a little break on the (penalty kill), (Toninato) was talking to me and he wanted the puck and was able to handle it,” McCormick said. “He was able to slide it through on the break and it was fortunate enough to go in.”

The third period was damage control and the Eagles seemed up to the task, being outshot in the game 39-22. Discipline and penalty issues for the Eagles would allow the Rampage more opportunities to even the game.

“We have to stop with the penalties,” Greer said. “It’s not easy because (we) wanna be a physical team and play hard, but there’s a lot of undisciplined penalties that we could’ve avoided.”

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Making the Eagles pay on the power play, Rampage forward Ryan Olsen would score his second of the game to make it 4-3 with under 10 minutes remaining in regulation. Goaltender Pavel Francouz would seal the game from there, shutting down the Rampage offense to close off the game and seal a much needed two points for the Eagles. Francouz stopped 36 of 39 shots he faced and Toninato and Greer combined for an empty net goal with just 1:16 left in regulation.

“(Francouz has) been awesome for us,” McCormick said. “Just his work ethic in practice and in the gym and his focus in games is incredible, he’s a great guy to have on your team and he’s been playing a lot for us.”

The Return of Agozzino and Greer from their respective call-ups with the Avalanche would be fruitful with both players playing on the team’s top two lines. Agozzino got the scoring going with a shorthanded goal, making it an AHL leading 13 total shorthanded goals on the season for Colorado.

Greer, scoring an empty-net goal and added two assists, along with Toninato’s four-point night saw their line score a combined 7 points.

“We had a great night, our line was productive,” said Greer. “I’m happy for (Toninato) he works his ass off. For him to get a four-point night… I’m really happy for him.”

The Eagles will be back at Budweiser Wednesday on the second leg of the series, but the team knows a better start will help their effort.

“I think we came flat-footed in the first period,” Greer said. “It was just a matter of regaining our confidence and making the simple plays, we weren’t making simple plays, and just turning the puck over on our end. To come back in that second period and have a strong effort and win the game is a huge accomplishment for us and helps us in the standings and our push for playoffs.”

The Eagles will be back at it Wednesday night against the Rampage as they look to start the home stand with a sweep. Puck drops at 7:05 p.m.

Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.