ANCHORAGE — As a quintessential defensive defenseman, B.J. Crum’s principal concern is keeping the puck out of the Alaska Aces’ net.
Somehow, though — and Crum pleads coincidence — he keeps putting the puck into the Stockton Thunder’s net.
Crum’s strike in the waning seconds of a power play midway through the third period Friday night was the game-winning goal in Alaska’s 3-1 ECHL win over Stockton at Sullivan Arena.
And it added another chapter to Crum’s curious scoring binge against the Thunder.
In parts of three hockey seasons with the Aces, Crum has scored four goals and added four assists in 16 combined regular-season and playoff games against Stockton. That includes a two-goal, one assist game against Stockton in the opener of a first-round playoff series in 2010, when he delivered the third-period, game-tying goal and followed with the winner. In 90 games against other opponents in that span, he has zero goals and five assists.
“I can’t explain it,’’ Crum said. “I’ve got nothing.’’
Friday, Crum cracked a 1-1 tie in a situation where he came onto the ice as the Aces’ power play had nearly elapsed. His intention was to play a shift of sturdy defense once the teams were back at equal strength.
But Aces center Nick Mazzolini captured the puck in his zone and whistled a pass to a breaking Crum on left wing. Crum entered the Stockton zone with speed, cut to the middle of the ice, continued down the high slot and beat Cody Reichard with a low wrister for his first goal, and first point, since rejoining the Aces seven games ago.
“I just tried to get to the middle of the ice and tried to get a shot,’’ Crum said. “I kind of fanned on it, but it was good enough.’’
Zach Harrison’s empty-net goal with 67 seconds left sealed the win and gave him a career-high 12 goals.
The victory in the opener of a three-game set was Alaska’s first after a three-game stretch that included two overtime losses and a shootout loss. It also put the Aces (33-11-5) on the cusp of a clinching a playoff spot with 23 regular-season games remaining.
Any combination of two points gained by the Aces or two points surrendered by the Bakersfield Condors will clinch the Aces a postseason berth. League-leading Ontario, which leads Alaska by two points (73-71) in the overall standings of the 23-team league, clinched a playoff spot Friday.
Until Crum’s goal, Friday’s game was as even as the score. Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman (24 saves) and Reichard (26 saves) kept the game tight.
The difference was special teams. Stockton (24-19-8) failed to score on its three power plays and the Aces scored on one of their two power plays.
“That’s what I’m mad about — we’re finding ways to lose games, not win them,’’ said Thunder coach Matt Thomas.
The Aces opened the scoring late in the second period when Jordan Kremyr stripped the puck from Thunder defenseman Tony DeHart along the goal line and fed Chris Clackson. Clackson’s dart from the inside edge of the right circle furnished a 1-0 lead.
Yet the Thunder countered on a pretty goal in the final minute of the period. Gabriel Levesque drove into the Aces zone on left wing and when Aces captain Steve Ward blocked his path, pivoted to his backhand and passed to the trailing Maxime Boisclair. Boisclair snapped a shot past Coleman for a 1-1 tie and his fourth goal in eight games with Stockton after starting the season in Kazakhstan.
Alaska’s sixth straight win over Stockton, which won the first two games between the clubs this season, was just what it needed after losing three straight games in extra time.
“After sneaking out with a point here and a point there, you definitely want to get back on the winning side,’’ Crum said.
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Stockton 0 1 0 — 1
Aces 0 1 2 — 3
First Period — None. Penalties — Baran, Aces (closing hand on puck), 7:36.
Second Period — 1, Aces, Clackson 12 (Kremyr), 16:31; 2, Stockton, Boisclair 4 (Levesque, DeHart), 19;19. Penalties — Clackson, Aces (roughing), 5:46; Abney, Stockton (roughing), 5:46; Noble, Stockton, double-minor (boarding, roughing), 10:57; Crum, Aces (roughing), 10:57; Coleman, Aces, served by Nunn (roughing), 11:34.
Third Period — 3, Aces, Crum 1 (Mazzolini), 10:53 (pp); 4, Aces, Harrison 12 (Ward), 18:53 (en). Penalties — Hughes, Aces (tripping), 3:10; Little, Stockton (tripping), 8:59.
Shots on goal — Stockton 8-10-7—25. Aces 9-11-9—29.
Power-play Opportunities — Stockton 0 of 3. Aces 1 of 2.
Goalies — Stockton, Reichard, 13-8-5 (28 shots-27 saves). Aces, Coleman, 16-4-1 (25-24).
A — 4,010 (6,399). T — 2:19.
Referee — Frederic Leblanc. Linesmen — Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.