Before the game, I wondered if the Cow Palace audience would get to see a hat trick on Country & Western Night. If they were wearing cowboy hats, this could pose a problem. Cowboy hats are a lot more expensive than ball caps and heavier too. Would people throw them? It was a typical sort of jinx. There was a hat trick, but from Colorado. Joey Sides did score three goals for the Eagles, but it was not enough for them to win. The Bulls managed to score four and they beat the Eagles for the first time.
The Bulls have had trouble winning when they don’t score first. They did it once before, back on November 9: Stockton scored first only to be taken apart for the rest of the game until it ended 4-1. My memory of that is so hazy, the lack of multiple game recaps and no video for me to review is maddening. How could I have not noticed the team winning without scoring first? I have concluded that it must have been a fluky goal so strange that it failed to break the “score first or lose” curse. Maybe it was off a Bulls player or even an own goal, though the recap from Stockton did not make it seem so.
In any case, the Bulls have had a whole lot of trouble winning games when they don’t score first. They have had as much trouble scoring at all against Colorado. Wednesday’s game showed a glimmer of hope, but still ended in a shootout loss. So this is the mountain they had to climb, with omens casting shadows on the ice.
I. Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser…
The Bulls did not panic when Jordan Morrison was the first to go to the penalty box. It is possible that I was the only one panicking since I have a conviction that early penalties to Morrison are a bad omen. The Eagles did score the first goal of the game on the subsequent power play, but the period was nearly over and the Bulls held the bleeding down to just the one goal.
Of the forward lines he used last night, Curcio said:
I was looking at the lines the other day, I was just trying find guys with some offense, trying to put them together, get some synergy… I thought Mo not being in the lineup on Wednesday hurt us down the middle…That line, they played really well, they deserved a lot of credit.
The line that had Morrison back was one with Sivak and Tarasov. Like all the lines, they would need to push hard in the second period, against the team’s history with comebacks and the Eagles.
II. You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…
The first penalty of the second period was odd. One Eagles player was hit behind his net, by two Bulls simultaneously. I think it may have been Morrison and Tarasov but I didn’t have time to be sure before Hans Benson came across the ice to challenge the same player to a fight. The Eagle was clearly unprepared for this challenge and it was an all around bizarre sequence of events. It was not deemed a fight. Benson got a double minor and the Eagles’ Bidwell got a slashing minor.
Something Curcio had said the Bulls wanted to avoid was being baited into untimely fights, especially with the Eagles. He repeated that after this game:
You have to be disciplined, you have to be smart to win hockey games, and it takes experience to know when to fight and when not to. We talked about it before the game, even Hans Benson, when he took that penalty in the second period, we talked about it after. You don’t need to do that. They had the original call, we’ll let it go from there. There’ll be another time when you can drop the gloves.
An early penalty kill was not what Curcio had in mind for a second period recovery. On the contrary, his plan was for the Bulls to do more of what they did on Wednesday: sustain relentless offensive pressure.
You’re going to find the net eventually. If you continue to play that way, they’re going to take a penalty. They’re going to have to haul you down, they’re going to have to get sticks on you, they’re going to have to do things so the refs have no choice but to call it.
The Bulls killed off that early penalty and Tarasov drew an interference penalty, which was followed by another odd incident. Some dispute in front of the net looked like it might become a fight, but as a linesman rushed in, someone took Tarasov’s feet out from under him, which caused the linesman to lose his footing as well.
The resulting power play went well for the Bulls. Tarasov said that Kwiet found a good position and this made it easy for him to find him. Describing the same play, Kwiet said:
Tarasov made a great pass across the ice to me and I tried to just get a quick shot on net and Ouellet had a nice tap-in.
The game was tied but the team was not yet in the clear. They had tied games before and still fallen to the curse of the first goal, but Dean Ouellet didn’t think the curse was so heavy now:
When we scored that it was a good feeling and the guys kept pushing. [Colorado] scored one at the end of the second but I don’t think it bothered us.
So ended the second period, with the Bulls still behind by one.
III. Know when to walk away and know when to run…
The Bulls’ third period did not start as well as it ended. Three seconds in, Scott Langdon challenged Isaac Smeltzer to a fight, which didn’t seem unusual with the Bulls in need of a boost. But as Curcio has said before, fights don’t always get the Bulls going in the right direction, even when they do, there might be a hiccup. He described that rough start thus:
Langdon went out and got into a fight right off the bat and that brought the energy level up. Sometimes when the energy level’s up you forget what you’re supposed to do out there, and you’re just running around and trying to do so much. We settled it down real quick. I thought Langdon did a good job against a real tough character there.
The Bulls seemed tentative while the fighters served their time. They couldn’t get out of their zone, seemed hemmed into futile circles. Mikael Tam was tripped by a ghost but managed to send the puck cross-ice where Kris Belan could carry it in. Once in the offensive zone, the Bulls’ sticks still seemed to waver, an extra tap here, a false start there.
They did settle down, and shortly after the fighting majors expired, the Bulls drew the first of two hooking penalties in the period. Hooking is also the term for what a bull does when he catches you with a horn and chucks you through the air. It didn’t seem like a good thing to try to do to a bull, one with skates or hooves. It wasn’t.
The Bulls scored on that power play, a goal from the same trio that tied the game in the second period. This time it was Kwiet’s goal, with assists from Ouellet and Tarasov.
Sivak scored another less than a minute later, and another about two minutes after that. Of playing with Sivak, Tarasov said:
He is something else. I like playing with him, he always finds the right spot, I just pass it to him and I know he’s going to score, so I try to work hard for this guy.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done…
Sivak finished the game with two goals, Tarasov three assists, Ouellet and Kwiet each with a goal and an assist, and Morrison with two assists. One assist and the only fight went to Langdon. Nelson made 22 saves on 25 shots.
For the moment, the team’s defensive corps is very strong, and their goalie is rising to the opportunity presented by Heemskerk’s untimely appendicitis. Of winning and being able to play more regularly, Nelson said:
It feels pretty good, it was the first win for me since the first game of the season… To be able to get back on a roll and to build some chemistry with the guys by playing more than one every now and again.
Some time ago I asked Curcio about Nelson and he assured me that the team has confidence in both of their goalies. It appears that this confidence is well-placed.
The team won’t play again until next Thursday, but right now I think Scott Langdon’s comment on their progress sums it up well: “We’re going to go forward with confidence here.”
(Originally published at Kukla’s Korner)