Every player on every playoff-bound team will echo the same sentiment in the days between the season finale and the post-season opener- you want to be playing your best hockey at this time of year. Not every team will be able to honestly claim that they are peaking in April, but the Steelheads certainly believe they are with four straight wins. The Steelheads also know that they are getting unprecedented performances from arguably the most important position in playoff hockey.
Landon Bow and Branden Komm were each in lock-down mode over the season’s final four games, polishing off tremendous seasons for both players. The two oversaw the longest stretch of Steelheads shutout hockey in the ECHL era, three consecutive shutout wins and coming just 3:57 shy of a fourth in Alaska to polish off the season.
“You want to be playing your best hockey at this time of the season, and coming down the final stretch I think that was one of the best segments that we played,” said Komm, who stood in net for three of the four contests and eared a personal-best 180:49 of scoreless hockey en route to his 19th win. “It’s a team game, so everyone bought into playing solid defense and tight hockey. It worked out for us.”
It certainly was a stellar stretch for the Steelheads defensively, holding an Alaska team that averages 34 shots per game under the 30 shot mark twice. The Steelheads penalty kill was also impressive in closing down shooting lanes, going 28-for-29 over the season’s final ten games. Still, in games in which the margin for error was razor thin, the Steelheads men between the pipes were unflappable.
“We’re tightening up a lot on the defensive end, which is huge,” said Bow, who earned a shutout in Alaska on Friday night. “In playoffs there are a lot of tight games – 2-1, 3-2, 1-0. There are a lot of games like that and if you intend to go far in playoffs you need to learn how to win those kinds of games.”
The rookie Bow may know how to win those games better than most. The All-Rookie goaltender won 19 games, led the league in goals-against average, and finished second in save percentage. Yet one of his most impressive stats on the year may have been his three shutout wins, all on the road and all by a 1-0 score.
“I think it’s all a coincidence. It’s always nice to go into someone else’s rink and have a lead and the other team thinks they have a chance, but you’re able to shut things down the rest of the way,” said Bow. “I’m a pretty laid back guy. I try not to get myself too excited or too low when good or bad things happen. Playing in games like that, I’m just making sure I make the next stop. That’s all I can do.”
No Steelheads goaltending tandem had ever gone 238:06 in the ECHL without surrendering a goal before. The period encompassed one of Idaho’s more dominant defensive stretches of the season in all areas of the ice, including winning neutral zone battles on an Olympic ice surface at Sullivan Arena. That’s a defensive mentality that the Steelheads expect to carry over to the ice at Budweiser Events Center.
“We were able to shut down Alaska on a bigger ice surface, and in Colorado there won’t be as much room,” said Bow. “We know they’re a high-end offensive team and for us to be successful we’re going to have to use our defensive structure and shut down their top lines.”
The Steelheads also had the benefit of playing in a playoff atmosphere in the final week- playing on the road against a desperate Alaska team in one-goal games. It’ll be a helpful lesson heading into the notoriously noisy rink in Loveland.
“Alaska is a tough barn to go play in and it was a full house for a couple of the nights we were there,” said Komm. “It was a tough environment and they were a good team and we were able to shut them down. There’s no reason we can’t do that against Colorado.”