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Eagles split weekend series against top team in the AHL

When you’re the team to beat at the top of the standings, everyone brings their A-game. For the Colorado Eagles, a series at home against the top team in their conference is an appetizing challenge. Hosting the top dog with the playoffs looming gives the Eagles a sense of how they stack up with the best in the league. 

“It’s a good challenge; they’re best in the Western Conference and maybe the whole league,” Jacob MacDonald said. “It’s a measuring stick for us, but that in turn is a challenge too. We feed on that.”

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Colorado Eagles celebrate a goal during the game against the Milwaukee Admirals at the Budweiser Event Center Feb. 29. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

The Milwaukee Admirals are currently atop the league standings with a record of 38-13-8. Saturday night they proved why they’ve been atop the standings all season long, as they jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period. Colorado looked lackadaisical at times and had trouble keeping the puck out of their defensive zone. 

A dry spell on offense hurt Colorado early. A couple of stick penalties gave the Admirals, who own the AHL’s No. 1 ranked power play, rhythm on offense, and while they didn’t score with the man advantage, it allowed them to settle in and control the flow of the game. 

“They’re a pretty good special teams unit,” Eagles forward Griffen Molino said. “Obviously giving them those opportunities early in the game … isn’t how we wanted to (start).” 

The Eagles went shotless for over 10 minutes of play. From 13:45 to 2:57, Colorado didn’t register a shot on goal. However, Molino picked up his first goal of the year to get Colorado on the board at 3-1 when he beat Admirals netminder Connor Ingram over his shoulder with a well-placed wrist shot.

The second period started quickly for Colorado. Just 57 seconds into play, T.J. Tynan connected with MacDonald on the power play to bring the Eagles within one goal. Tynan showed great vision and skill on the play, finding MacDonald on the opposite side of the ice with a saucer pass.

“He’s an incredible (puck) distributer,” MacDonald said. “His passing skills are probably the best I’ve ever played with, personally. That’s a huge asset for us, and we try to capitalize on it as much as we can.”

Ultimately the comeback attempt fell short as Milwaukee added an insurance goal on a breakaway near the end of the second and held on to take the first game 4-2

Colorado Eagles center T.J. Tynan makes a cut to the middle of the ice in a game against the Milwaukee Admirals on Feb. 29. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

Colorado also lost one of their top five scorers, as forward Jayson Megna appeared hurt after blocking a shot in Saturday’s game during the second period and did not return to the ice in that game and was absent from the lineup on Sunday.

With an afternoon game on Sunday less than 24 hours later, the physicality carried over from the night before. The Eagles made a few additions to their roster with call-ups from their ECHL affiliate the Utah Grizzlies, adding size to the d-core and forward group by inserting Josh Dickinson, Josh Anderson and Peter Tischke into the lineup.

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“We have a lot of guys from Utah in this locker room right now,” forward Ryan Wagner said. “We definitely follow the scores (of the games in Utah). … We’re just a hard working team. Some nights we may not (have) all the skill, but we’re going to work hard.”

Trying to avoid a sweep, the Eagles came out firing in game two and ended the first period up 2-0. Colorado used the early lead to cruise to a 3-1 win and split the series with Milwaukee. 

Wagner got the Eagles on the board just over 15 minutes into the first when he put home a loose puck in the crease and then added another goal on the power play just over three minutes later. They are Wagner’s fourth and fifth goals of the season, and he now has three goals in his last three games

Splitting a series with the top team in the league did provide some useful takeaways for Colorado. The Eagles held the Admirals’ power play, averaging 27.3% coming into the weekend, scoreless at 0/7 on the weekend. Colorado also got their licks in against Milwaukee’s penalty kill unit, which ranks in the top five in the AHL, scoring two goals on 10 power play attempts

This weekend felt like a playoff series in many ways. Nobody needed a reminder to finish their checks, there were plenty of post-whistle scrums and the teams racked up 68 total penalty minutes.

Colorado is in the middle of a six-game homestand, remaining at home for four more games. They’ll take on the Ontario Reign March 6-7 and then host the Texas Star March 10-11.   

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

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