The Alaska Aces squandered ample opportunities Saturday night, not least a pair of third-period power plays that proved fruitless when the game hung in the balance.
The San Francisco Bulls did not enjoy as many quality scoring chances at Sullivan Arena, but they seized upon their most glorious, and evened the ECHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
None other than former Aces winger Kory Falite cashed in on a fortuitous bounce of the puck and roofed a shot five minutes into the third period, and Thomas Heemskerk made that goal stand in San Francisco's 1-0 victory.
The best-of-7 series between the top-seeded Aces and the eighth-seeded Bulls now moves to the Bay Area for the next three games, with Game 3 set for Thursday night.
Falite struck after his initial bid was blocked by Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise, and Dean Ouellet's follow-up shot ricocheted off the skate of Aces defenseman Brad Gorham and directly to Falite at the bottom of the right circle. His wrister ejected the water bottle of Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman (17 saves) from the top of the net.
"It's a nice feeling in the old barn,'' said Falite, a member of Alaska's 2011 Kelly Cup-winning club. "Now it's a whole new series.''
Alaska twice went on the power play after Falite's strike, but didn't manage so much as a shot on goal during either two-minute stretch.
Granted, rookie winger Andy Taranto, who operates on a power-play unit, by then was gone for the night with a lower-body injury suffered in the second period. And winger Garry Nunn, another power-play guy and the man who opened the scoring in Alaska's 5-1 win in Friday's Game 1, was a scratch Saturday with a lower-body injury. Also, winger and power-play contributor Evan Trupp was in the penalty box for the first of those third-period power plays.
"That's no excuse,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "We've got to get the job done, especially with the game on the line.''
Aces captain Steve Ward, who works on a power-play unit, said his team wasn't nearly as sharp with the man advantage as it was Friday, when it converted two of seven chances.
"We kind of unraveled a bit,'' he said. "Our breakouts were poor and we started to force things a bit.''
Heemskerk, who was yanked in the second period of Game 1 after surrendering four goals, stopped 32 shots to post the Bulls' first shutout of the season.
He flashed his right pad to rebuff Bobby Hughes in the first period and stabbed high with his blocker to deny Chris Clackson's 2-on-1 bid in the second period. Later in the second period, he made consecutive stops on Aces center Nick Mazzolini, who was the club's leading scorer in the regular season but was held without a point in the first two games of this series. Mazzolini's eight shots on goal Saturday doubled any other player in the match.
As the game progressed without a goal through two periods -- that marked just the second time in 74 overall games this season an Aces game was all zeros after 40 minutes -- the Aces knew they were flirting with danger.
"Our power play wasn't good enough and we didn't bury chances,'' said Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault. "And that's what happens when you don't. It bites you in the ass.''
The Aces pulled Coleman for a sixth attacker with 68 seconds left, but they managed just one shot after that. Heemskerk squeezed his pads together to snuff Tim Hall's wrister from the slot.
With the series heading to San Francisco, the Aces do have good vibes from their last visit there. Alaska swept a three-game series at the Cow Palace a month ago.
And Coleman furnished a history lesson as he plated some food in the hallway outside the Aces' dressing room afterward. He reminded that Alaska headed to Stockton tied 1-1 in its opening playoff series last season after Thunder winger Chris D'Alvise won Game 2 at Sullivan with an overtime dagger. The Aces promptly won three games in California to dispatch the Thunder in five games.
"(The Thunder) were whooping and hollering, kind of like they are over there,'' he said, nodding toward the visiting dressing room. "So, go back down there and do what we did last year.''
Shuffling the deck
There's a chance Clackson could be hearing from the league office.
He delivered a big hit on San Francisco forward Tristan King in the second period, and it appeared Clackson's shoulder struck the head of King, who left and did not return. Referee Joe Sullivan did not penalize Clackson on the play, which occurred directly in front of him, but he also had raised his hands in front of his face to shield himself from both players' sticks.
Interesting two nights for Aces winger Tommy Mele. He was a healthy scratch Friday, then got into the lineup as the 10th forward Saturday, when Nunn was absent. When Taranto, who replaced Nunn on Mazzolini's line, left the game, Mele was thrust onto that first line. So, from healthy scratch to first-line winger and power-play guy in 24 hours.
The off-ice officials did not have a strong game. The teams played perhaps 15-20 seconds of the second period before the clock began running. Also, two Bulls were allowed to leave the penalty box before their penalties expired in the second period. And the goal light briefly illuminated when Heemskerk made that blocker save on Clackson in the second period.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
SF 0 0 1 -- 1
Aces 0 0 0 -- 0
First Period -- None. Penalties -- Heemskerk, SF, served by Cameron (delay of game-puck over glass), 9:30; Clackson, Aces (hooking), 11:59; Tam, SF (holding), 13:47.
Second Period -- None. Penalties -- Hughes, Aces, double-minor, served by Trupp (slashing, roughing), 3:52; Falite, SF (roughing), 3:52; D. Ouellet, SF (high-sticking), 3:58; Tam, SF (roughing), 4:24; Imbeault, Aces (tripping), 12:06; Kwiet, SF (hooking), 13:25; Gorham Aces (interference), 19:04.
Third Period -- 1, SF, Falite 1 (Findlay, D. Ouellet), 5:00. Penalties -- Trupp, Aces (roughing), 6:30; Belan, SF, double-minor (boarding, roughing), 6:30; Mele, Aces (slashing), 8:13; D. Ouellet, SF (high-sticking), 12:04; Aces bench minor, served by Mele (too many men), 15:10.
Shots on goal -- SF 5-7-6--18. Aces 11-16-5--32.
Power-play Opportunities -- SF 0 of 6. Aces 0 of 7.
Goalies - SF, Heemskerk, (0-1) (32 shots-32 saves). Aces, Coleman, (1-0) (18-17).
A -- 4,492 (6,399). T -- 2:23.
Referee -- Joe Sullivan. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Travis Jackson.