Eric Lampe figuratively wrapped himself in the hockey hero's overtime cape again Sunday night -- he has bagged two of Las Vegas' three OT strikes in these ECHL playoffs -- but there was no shortage of candidates who could have added a momentum-shifting, game-winning goal to their rink resumes.
An inch or two here or there, and it could have been Wranglers winger Josh Lunden, the former Seawolf, grabbing the glory in the third period.
Or Alaska Aces defenseman Steve Ward might have seized the spotlight in the waning seconds of regulation.
And Aces winger Garry Nunn came tantalizingly close to racking a reward two minutes into overtime.
Just three games into the Western Conference finals, the difference between the Wranglers, who lead 2-1 in the best-of-7 showdown entering Game 4 Tuesday night, and Aces has been as thin as a skate blade.
"There are no weak links,'' Ward said after practice Monday. "It's just who makes the mistake, and who can persevere longer than the other guy.''
Alaska opened the series with a 2-1 win in Las Vegas, courtesy of Ryan Cruthers' game winner with four minutes to go. Las Vegas answered with a 3-0 win in a Game 2 that was fairly evenly contested for the last 56 minutes - the Wranglers scored twice in the opening four minutes. And then Lampe struck on a rebound 3:11 into OT for Sunday's 3-2 win at Sullivan Arena.
Lunden's shot at potential one-game fame came with Sunday's game tied 2-2 and seven minutes left in regulation. He corralled a rebound at the edge of the left crease and swept a forehand behind Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman. Coleman reached back with the paddle of his stick along the ice and denied the winger.
"It was a great save,'' Lunden said Monday. "It was a great play by Mike Busto and Scott Campbell to get the puck to the net. I didn't realize how much time I had, but it was just a great save.''
With just 9.5 seconds left in regulation, Ward had the puck at the bottom of the right circle and Wranglers goalie Joe Fallon, who was sprawled on his right side, at his mercy. But the puck was so far out in front of Ward after his faked shot in the slot -- a Wrangler was in his shooting lane, so he continued from the slot into the circle -- he could not lift it into an inviting net and slid it into Fallon for a stop in play.
"I tried to make a fake, and I pushed it too far,'' Ward recounted. "I wanted to get the puck out front. In hindsight, I probably had more time than I thought.''
Nunn got his shot at ending things two minutes into overtime. After Aces defenseman Bryan Miller charged down the right wing and wheeled a shot on net from the bottom of the circle, the puck ricocheted hard out to Nunn, who was covering for Miller and got the biscuit at the inside top of the right circle.
"It came perfectly, right out to me, and I got all of it and one-timed it,'' said Nunn, who quickly snapped a rebound shot that appeared to be headed between Fallon's pads. "He held onto it, with no rebound. I couldn't believe it. That was such a great chance.''
But if there's one thing playoff hockey demands, it's a short memory.
"You just have to think about the next shift, and the possibilities on the next shift,'' Lunden said. "Bear down, and bury that next chance.''
Ward said fretting over missed opportunities will only cripple a player.
"You have to forget about it,'' he said. "You dwell on it, and it starts creeping into your mind, and the next time you get a chance like that, you're gripping your stick (too) tight.''
So everyone on both sides preaches the same mantra -- forget the past, the present is precious.
"It's a sense of urgency you need in the playoffs because every game can be so tight,'' Lunden said.
Sunday's game played out like the pucks proverb -- it came down to a bounce here and there.
"This is what you play hockey for,'' Ward said. "You can't get down. You can't worry. You just have to think of what you need to bring to the next game and have fun with it.
"They're playing with confidence and coming after us, wave after wave. We just have to do the same thing -- match it.''
So far in the playoffs, overtime has been good to the Wranglers -- they're 3-0 in extra time, having twice beaten Idaho in OT in the conference semifinals. The Aces, meanwhile, are 0-2 in OT in these playoffs, having lost a home game in the previous round to Stockton.
Nunn pointed out that the Aces responded well after that overtime loss to the Thunder, generating a 4-0 win in the following game, which gives him confidence heading into Tuesday's match.
"We took a tough beat against Stockton and bounced right back,'' he said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.