Once upon a time, the Eagles were known for making spectacular, last-minute comebacks.
In 2016-17 and 2017-18 — the seasons the Eagles won back-to-back Kelly Cup Championships — comebacks were the norm. Colorado almost seemed to thrive when playing from behind. Down by two or three, and headed into the third? No problem! The team could always find a way to win.
Then the Eagles moved to the AHL, and, suddenly, comebacks became a thing of the past. It wasn’t that the Eagles were a bad team, but they never managed to rally when faced with a deficit. Through the 2018-19 season and the first half of the current season, the comebacks could be counted on one hand. Just one week ago, the Eagles were 1–9–0 when trailing after the first. As of this morning, that stat is 3–10–0. But numbers aside, last night’s comeback against the Bakersfield Condors reminded Eagles fans of the good old days.
Four of the Eagles’ starting forwards weren’t in the lineup on Saturday. Logan O’Connor, Sheldon Dries, and Martin Kaut were all playing in Los Angeles with the Avalanche, and Michael Joly was out for unknown reasons. Their spots were filled by Ryan Wagner, Tim McGauley, and Griffen Molino, who had all been called up from the Utah Grizzlies. McGauley and Molino have been spectacular for the Grizzlies, ranked 2nd and 3rd respectively in points in the ECHL. Despite the added depth, there’s only one word for the Eagles’ first period: Ugly.
It wasn’t that the Eagles were outplayed. Shots on goal after the first 20 minutes were nearly even (12-11 Condors). However, Stuart Skinner was perfect in net for Bakersfield. Adam Werner, on the other hand, had one of his less spectacular periods. First, Anthony Peluso chipped one in from the left circle at 1:55 of the first period. At 12:13, Luke Esposito sent a slapshot in from above the left circle. Then, with less than five minutes remaining in the first, Jakob Stukel tried to center the puck from behind the net, but instead of sliding through the crease to his waiting teammate, the puck bounced off of Werner’s back and into the net. It was the unluckiest of goals, adding to the Eagles’ frustration.
The second period started with more of the same. At 3:14 of the second, Joel Persson scored a powerplay goal through a screen to put the Condors up 4-0. It felt like the proverbial nail in the coffin. A fair number of fans probably turned the game off then and there. But the Eagles persisted. They outshot Bakersfield 15-9 through the second and just couldn’t get anything past Skinner.
The last twelve minutes of the middle period contained six penalties – three by each team – resulting in very little 5-on-5 play. The Eagles managed to kill off a short 3-on-5 penalty before getting their own 5-on-3 power play late in the period. They failed to capitalize on a two-man advantage, but seconds after returning to 5-on-4, A.J. Greer scored a powerplay goal with only 13 seconds left in the period to make the score 1-4.
After 39 minutes of frustration, getting a goal in the last minute was the exact boost of energy the Eagles needed. But they still had a three-goal deficit to deal with.
The Third Period
The Eagles came out strong in the third period, proving they were going to fight until the end. Their first big break came at 6:42 when Wagner slapped one in from just inside the right circle. It looked like Skinner caught it with his glove — even Skinner seemed to think he’d stopped it — but instead, it slipped over his fingers and into the net. Less than two minutes later, Julien Nantel chipped a puck in from just outside the crease, assisted by Shane Bowers and Greer.
And suddenly, the Eagles were down by only one point with more than half a period left to play. They kept the pressure on, outshooting the Condors 14-5 with more than half of those shots coming from the slot or just outside the crease. Finally, with only 3:12 remaining in the game, Greer hit one home from the top of the left circle to send the game into overtime.
The extra period was fast-paced, with a lot of back and forth play up and down the ice. Exactly halfway through overtime, Logan Day took a shot from between the circles. Greer blocked the shot and passed the puck to Jayson Megna. Megna beat Day in a race down the ice and chipped the puck over Skinner and into the net, completing the Eagles’ amazing comeback.
— Colorado Eagles (@ColoradoEagles) February 23, 2020
Despite a disastrous first period, Colorado held strong. They outshot Bakersfield 42-25. They went 2/6 on the power play and 1/3 on the penalty kill. But more importantly, they proved that last-minute comebacks are no longer a thing of the past. This team has heart.
Even with several starters out of the lineup, they have the depth and the skill to make anything happen. Not only did they beat the odds, they did it on February 22, exactly forty years after Al Michaels famously asked, “Do you believe in miracles?”
As of last night, Eagles fans definitely have reason to believe.