Safeguarding a one-goal lead in the mayhem of the final frantic minutes Saturday night, the Alaska Aces and goaltender Gerald Coleman first fended off a San Francisco Bulls power play.
Next, the Aces withstood a continued assault by the visitors, who this time were buoyed by an extra attacker.
“It’s not that you’re on your heels,’’ said Aces defenseman Sean Curry, “but that the other team is pushing with everything it has to tie it up. We just have to play as a five-man unit, try to block shots, do whatever it takes.
“It’s kind of chaos.’’
All of which made the Aces’ 2-1 victory before a roaring, announced crowd of 5,209 at Sullivan Arena especially satisfying.
With two first-period goals lending the Aces the lead and a cushion, and with Coleman stopping 31 shots, they remained atop the ECHL and gained some much-needed bounce-back from Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Bulls.
With leading scorer Nick Mazzolini out with a upper-body injury and standout rookie defenseman William Wrenn out sick — and, remember, Alaska’s NHLers are long gone — the Aces squeaked out what hockey players like to call a greasy win. Coleman snuffed six shots in the final 2:33.
“That shows the character of this team,’’ said Coleman, who stopped 17 shots in the third period. “With the NHL guys gone, we have to be a team that grinds out wins.’’
Alaska (32-11-2) did that by killing a tripping penalty against defenseman Mike Baran with 2:33 remaining to finish off a perfect 4 for 4 penalty-killing night. Coleman’s biggest stop during that short-handed sequence came when he gloved Peter Sivak’s bid from near the right post.
“I knew if I was on my post he couldn’t get it by me,’’ Coleman said. “I put my glove out to make myself as big as possible and I knew from earlier he was trying to go high glove. He had to go backhand to forehand and that gave me time to get across.’’
With 22.2 seconds left and San Francisco goalie Taylor Nelson (33 saves) off in favor of an extra attacker, Bulls center Jordan Morrison half-won a left-wing draw in Alaska’s end. But Bobby Hughes and Zach Harrison of Alaska got out to the left point and combined to clear the puck from the zone.
The Bulls (16-21-5) rushed the puck back into the Aces’ zone and got off an attempted shot from the high slot, but Aces defenseman B.J. Crum blocked it.
“Protect the house, that’s all you’re thinking,’’ Crum said. “I got lucky — it hit me right in the stomach.’’
Finally, the Aces could exhale.
“It was kind of an intense stretch,’’ Harrison said.
The Aces seized a 2-0 lead inside the opening eight minutes when Alexandre Imbeault and Garry Nunn struck 69 seconds apart.
Imbeault delivered on the power play, taking Chris Haltigin’s pass near the left post, stepping around a sprawling Nelson and sliding the puck into an open cage.
Nunn scored off a Harrison feed.
That cushion held for nearly 25 minutes of play until San Francisco’s Christian Ouellet struck for his third goal in the last two nights. Ouellet’s one-timer from atop the right circle, off a Morrison pass, came against an exhausted group of Aces who had just killed a penalty but couldn’t get out of their zone.
The teams wrap a three-game series with a matinee Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
“We needed that win,’’ Harrison said. “It was important for our team after (Friday) night. Now, we have to win the series.’’
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini missed his first game of the season, which means none of the Aces have played in each of the club’s 45 games this season.
The Aces improved to 23-0-2 when they score the game’s first goal. They are the only team in the league unbeaten in regulation when they score first.
They also improved to a league-best 21-0-0 when they lead after two periods.
Alaska is 17-2-2 in one-goal games and leads the circuit in one-goal victories.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 0 1 0 — 1
Aces 2 0 0 — 2
First Period — 1, Aces, Imbeault 11 (Haltigin, Clackson), 6:48 (pp); 2, Aces, Nunn 13 (Harrison, Molle), 7:57. Penalties — Clendenning, SF (roughing), 5:16; Crum, Aces (roughing), 13:14.
Second Period — 3, SF, C. Ouellet 11 (Morrison, Trudeau), 13:38. Penalties — Lessard, SF (boarding), 1:32; Haltigin, Aces (delay of game-puck over glass), 6:15; Baran, Aces (hooking), 11:14; Clendenning, SF (tripping), 13:57; Carlson, SF (tripping), 16:04; Morrison, SF (boarding), 17:55.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Baran, Aces (tripping), 17:27.
Shots on goal — SF 5-10-17—32. Aces 12-15-8—35.
Power-play Opportunities — SF 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 5.
Goalies — SF, Taylor, 5-8-2 (35 shots-33 saves). Aces, Coleman, 15-4-0 (32-31).
A — 5,206 (6,399). T — 2:24.
Referee — Ryan Murphy. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.