The third period, especially in home games, has belonged to the Alaska Aces this hockey season.
Not Friday night.
The visiting San Francisco Bulls pierced the Aces for three goals in the final 20 minutes — one gritty, one gorgeous and one into an empty net — to blow up a tied game and seize a 5-2 ECHL victory at Sullivan Arena.
Before Friday, the league-leading Aces (31-11-2) were 7-0-2 overall in games tied after two periods and 4-0-0 in home games tied entering the third period. They had outscored opponents 28-16 in third periods at Sullivan.
But the Bulls (16-20-5), swept by Alaska here in late October, outshot the Aces 16-5 in the third period and never wavered in earning their third straight victory.
The Aces, meanwhile, have lost consecutive games at Sullivan for the first time this season.
“That was on us,’’ said Aces captain Steve Ward. “We looked a little complacent to start the third period. We’ve got to realize we’re a marked team — teams want to beat us.
“We’ve got to find that energy.’’
With the game deadlocked 2-2 after two periods, the Bulls knew they needed a strong final 20 minutes because they’ve been on the wrong end of tilted ice at Sullivan late in games this season. On Oct. 26, they led 1-0 at Sullivan after two periods and lost 4-1. The next night, they forged a 1-1 tie early in the third period before the Aces hung a 5-2 loss on them.
“We knew we needed to have a big third, and lately, we’ve been good in the third,’’ said San Francisco winger Jordan Clendenning.
Clendenning’s deflection of a Rob Kwiet shot from the center point midway through the third period furnished the Bulls their third lead of the night, and the one they did not surrender.
Aces defenseman Sean Curry seemingly had Clendenning tied up in the low slot when Kwiet got his shot through the attempted shot-block of Jordan Kremyr. Clendenning tipped the puck over the glove of Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger (26 saves) for a 3-2 Bulls lead.
“It gave all of us confidence,’’ Clendenning said.
Less than five minutes later, San Francisco rookie winger Christian Ouellet spearheaded a 2-on-1. When Aces blueliner B.J. Crum slid to the ice to block an expected pass from Ouellet, Ouellet maneuvered around Crum and rifled a point-blank shot past a screened Guggenberger for his second goal of the game and a 4-2 cushion.
With Guggenberger off for a sixth attacker and just 14.8 seconds left, San Francisco defenseman Cody Carlson scored into an empty net.
Taylor Nelson stopped 23 shots for the Bulls.
The 16-5 shot advantage San Francisco mustered in the third period was by far the most lopsided against the Aces in a third period on home ice this season.
“It kind of baffles me because one of my points to the guys between the second and third is we controlled the pace of the game in the second,’’ said Aces bench boss Rob Murray. “Other than missing a multitude of chances, we could have been ahead for the third.
“And then we just fell flat.’’
The Aces never led. Kwiet’s goal midway through the first period off a feed from Dean Ouellet — Kwiet beat Guggenberger to the short side on a left-circle shot the goalie no doubt would like back — opened the scoring. Alaska’s Zach Harrison evened the score less than three minutes later when he bolted around Kwiet on right wing, cut to the net and stuffed a backhander past Nelson.
Christian Ouellet restored San Francisco’s lead at 2-1 when he buried Alex Tuckerman’s 2-on-1 pass midway through the second period. Again, the Aces forged a tie, this time on Chris Clackson’s wrister off the crossbar and in with less than two minutes left in the second period.
A tied game entering the third period at Sullivan usually means good things for the Aces.
Not on this night, though.
“We weren’t good enough,’’ Ward said. “No excuses. We’ve got the personnel to win. We left our foot off the gas, and that’s what happens.’’
Shuffling the deck
Aces winger Gary Nunn returned to the lineup after missing five games with a badly bruised foot suffered when he was hit by a Curry slapper.
Defenseman Mike Baran, recently snagged out of the Southern Professional Hockey League, assisted on Harrison’s goal to give him 1-4—5 totals in four games since joining the Aces.
Aces defenseman Dustin Molle and Bulls winger Hans Benson, the former Aces enforcer, had a spirited fight in the first period. Benson waved to the crowd before entering the penalty box to serve his five minutes.
Christian Ouellet, who San Francisco acquired earlier this month from Gwinnett, where he began the season with Alaska’s Clackson as a teammate, fired a game-high six shots on goal. That’s the most shots he has fired in 35 games as a pro.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at and.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 1 1 3 -- 5
Alaska 1 1 0 --2
First Period -- 1, SF, Kwiet 7 (D. Ouellet, Galiardi), 9:25; 2, Aces, Harrison 11 (Baran, Curry), 11:51. Penalties -- Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 14:29; Benson, SF, major (fighting), 14:29.
Second Period -- 3, SF, C. Ouellet 9 (Tuckerman, Morrison), 9:39; 4, Aces, Clackson 11 (Wrenn), 18:25. Penalties -- Clendenning, SF (tripping), 5:33; Lessard, SF (tripping), 10:41; Sivak, SF (slashing), 16:25; Nunn, Aces (hooking), 16:29.
Third Period -- 5, SF, Clendenning 4 (Kwiet), 9:56; 6, SF, C. Ouellet 10 (Morrison), 14:22; 7, SF, Carlson 4, 19:45 (en). Penalties -- Molle, Aces (high-sticking), 11:33.
Shots on goal -- SF 8-7-16--31. Aces 10-10-5--25.
Power-play Opportunities -- SF 0 of 2. Aces 0 of 3.
Goalies -- SF, Nelson, 5-7-2 (25 shots-23 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 16-6-2 (30-26).
A -- 4,072 (6,399). T -- 2:15.
Referee -- Ryan Murphy. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson .