Eagles manage to clinch playoff spot after regular season finale

Ryan Loberger

Saturday night was do-or-die for the Colorado Eagles, after falling to San Jose the night before by a score of 3-1, they’d need a win and a small miracle to make the postseason.

Tucson was able to pick up two points in a controversial overtime win Friday night, allowing them to jump over Colorado for the last playoff spot. An error with the game clock allowed Tucson to score with 3.4 seconds left in overtime when the clock should’ve expired and the game been decided by a shoot out.

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Regardless, the Eagles needed a win to have any shot at the postseason and they did just that. Nine different Eagles registered a point as Colorado got scoring throughout their lineup, with three different lines contributing on the score sheet.

Forward Dominic Toninato embraces goaltender Pavel Francouz following a 3-2 win against the San Jose Barracuda on April 13. (photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

“That’s kinda the team we are,” Eagles’ forward Nick Henry said. “We’re not gonna score a ton of goals, so we gotta score by committee… Start in our (defensive) zone, playing with a good (defensive) zone and moving the puck up and getting in on the forecheck and working them below the goal line.”

The first period of play seemed tight as both clubs battled for room on the ice, good puck management was a common theme. 

Colorado held the Barracuda to just a single shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of play and was rewarded for their hard work with the game’s first goal with 5:53 left to play in the first.

Eagles defenseman David Warsofsky was able to get a point shot to the net and Martin Kaut found himself face-to-face with a loose puck that made its way through the equipment of San Jose goaltender Andrew Shortridge. Kaut potted his 12th goal of the season and gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.

Eagles players huddle around forward Martin Kaut after he scores his 12th goal of the season against the San Jose Barracuda. Colorado would go on to win the game 3-2 on April 13. (Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Little things like getting the first goal, continuous effort and staying disciplined, weren’t executed as well Friday night but were all key in last night’s win.

“Wanted to clean up our game in small areas,” Henry said. “ We came out with a good first period but after that, I don’t think we had good enough jump to win a game. It was good to come back and get a win tonight.”

The second period started with both teams showing stingy defense and patience with the puck, making for only a few chances to start the period. Play opened up around the 15-minute mark and Eagles goaltender Pavel Francouz stepped up big for Colorado, as he has all season.
Francouz turned away 32 of 34 shots while making key saves down the stretch and limiting his rebounds, something Shortridge, struggled with as the game wore on.

“I’ve only been around for a little while, but he seems like one heck of a goalie,” Henry said. “He makes some huge saves when we need them and that’s what you need out of your goalie.”

Carrying momentum and a 1-0 lead into the third period, Colorado forward Dominic Toninato was rewarded with a goal while battling in front of the net. Defenseman Nicolas Meloche got a puck through traffic and a nice rebound kicked out to the stick of Toninato who put the Eagles up 2-1 just over 4 minutes into the third period.

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Logan O’Connor added an insurance goal to make it 3-1 just over halfway through the third and while San Jose made a push, it was too-little-too-late.

The Barracuda were able to cut the lead to a single goal with just 1.3 seconds remaining, with the game ending off the ensuing face off.

Colorado’s win put them back ahead of Tucson by a single point for the final playoff spot in the division. Players took to the ice after the game to sign autographs for fans on their fan appreciation night. The Eagles and their faithful were able to watch together on the jumbotron as Tucson fell in regulation to the San Diego Gulls by a score of 4-3, punching the Eagles’ ticket to the playoffs.

Colorado will play the first-seeded Bakersfield Condors in a best-of-five series in the opening round. Bakersfield will travel to Loveland for game one this Friday, April 19 and game two will be played on Saturday the 20. 

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