Anchorage — Long story short: The Alaska Aces's 6-5 defense-optional road victory over the San Francisco Bulls on Friday night put the Aces within one victory of eliminating the Bulls from the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoffs.
Long story still pretty short: About the only thing missing from this wild one at the Cow Palace was a penalty shot, or perhaps an own goal, or, hell, an actual cow.
Goals were scored in bunches, and so rapidly, the public address announcer could hardly match that pace.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but adding together the goal-scoring bonanza the teams delivered in a stretch of five-plus minutes in the second period and a similar sequence in roughly four minutes late in the third period, the teams combined for eight goals -- four each -- in a combined span of just 9:29.
And the award for understatement of the evening goes to Aces coach Rob Murray: "I think it was maybe a sloppy game on both sides of the puck.''
The calendar said it was Friday the 12th, but it felt more like Friday the 13th, especially if you were a masked man in the crease.
After all, the Bulls scored just three goals in the first three games of the first-round, best-of-7 series, which Alaska leads 3-1 entering Saturday night's Game 5 in San Francisco. Friday, they matched that total by the midpoint of the game in which the three goaltenders used -- Alaska's Mark Guggenberger (29 saves), and San Francisco's Thomas Heemskerk (16 saves) and Taylor Nelson (16 saves) -- combined for an .847 save percentage.
When Alaska's Zach Harrison and Bobby Hughes scored 42 seconds apart with less than seven minutes to play, the Aces owned the game's biggest lead at 6-3 and victory seemed a foregone conclusion.
And then that conclusion seemed like a silly notion.
Inside the next three minutes, San Francisco's Dean Ouellet and former Aces winger Kory Falite scored a mere 20 seconds apart -- Ouellet's strike was his second of the night -- to slash the Bulls' deficit to 6-5.
"It was just one of those games where pucks were bouncing for both teams,'' Harrison said.
The Bulls pulled backup goaltender Nelson in favor of an extra attacker in the last minute-plus -- starter Heemskerk was long gone by then, getting a second-period hook for the second time in four games -- but never mounted much of a threat.
And -- exhale, Aces.
The game was finally over. Of course, it seemed to be over at 6-3.
"It should have been,'' Murray said by cellphone. "To their credit, they didn't quit, and came back. Once we went up 6-3, we played a little out of character and went passive.
"I've never wanted to be the coach that plays that prevent defense. After their fifth goal, we kind of snapped out of it. After that, I'm not sure they got a shot on net.''
Harrison, who centers Alaska's third line, echoed his boss.
"That's when guys kind of pulled together and said, 'Enough is enough,' '' Harrison said.
Harrison's one-goal, two-assist night -- his third-period goal on an odd-man rush was a gem that included a top-drag followed by a roofed wrister as he fell to the ice -- marked the second three-point game in his 187 regular-season and playoff games as a pro. His left wing, Chris Clackson, racked two goals. His right wing, Alex Hudson did not have a point, but scored a goal in Thursday's 4-1 Aces win in Game 3.
Turns out the grinders are wearing down the Bulls.
"They're playing hard,'' Murray said. "Those are the type of guys who in the playoffs rise to the occasion,'' Murray said. "Clackson, and Harry and Huddie, they're so dependable, and now they're adding offense.''
Harrison's five points (3-2--5) trails only Hughes' team-leading six points (3-3--6) among Alaska's playoff scorers. Hughes also scored on a power-play breakaway Friday off a precise stretch pass from captain Steve Ward. Alaska's other goal came from defenseman B.J. Crum.
Harrison said he and his linemates have become familiar with one another's games, and familiarity breeds confidence.
"Come playoff time, knowing your linemates is what helps,'' Harrison said. "If you know where a guy is going to be, you can put the puck somewhere near there and know he'll be there for you.''
The Aces can dispatch the Bulls with a victory Saturday in Game 5 at the Cow Palace, where they have won all five games this season. Harrison said the Aces want to finish the series, instead of coming back to Anchorage for Game 6, which would be Tuesday, because Las Vegas and Stockton play Game 7 of that series Saturday night. The winner of the Aces-Bulls series in the next round plays the winner of the Wranglers-Thunder series.
"It's important to put this away and be on the same time schedule as whoever we play next,'' Harrison said. "We don't want them to get extra rest.''
Shuffling the deck
Murray said Gerald Coleman, who started Games 1 and 2 for the Aces, will get the start in goal Saturday night.
Spencer Bennett led the Aces with six shots on goal, Hughes and Clackson each generated five, and Harrison furnished four.
Think the Bulls could use a power-play goal? They went 0 for 2 Friday to make them 0 for 14 in the series and just 2 of 52 in 12 games against the Aces this season.
Bulls winger Tommy Grant, the former Seawolf, was a scratch Friday after being injured in Thursday's Game 3.
San Francisco's 34 shots on goal were by far its most in the series. The Bulls had 23 shots through two periods, more than they had in any of the first three games in the series.
In other Western Conference series Friday, Idaho beat visiting Colorado 3-2 in overtime Friday to take that series in six games. Idaho now faces Ontario, which swept Utah in four games.
Also, Stockton roared back from a 3-0 deficit four-plus minutes into the third period to stun visiting Las Vegas, 5-3, and force Game 7 Friday in Stockton.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 0 4 2 -- 6
SF 1 2 2 -- 5
First Period -- 1, SF, D. Ouellet 1 (C. Ouellet), 18:18 (sh). Penalties -- Findlay, SF (high-sticking), 2:46; Crum, Aces (slashing), 15:33; Falite, SF (holding), 17:19.
Second Period -- 2, Aces, Hughes 2 (Ward), 1:55 (pp); 3, Aces, Clackson 1 (Harrison), 5:03; 4, SF, Belan 2 (Isherwood, C. Ouellet), 5:25; 5, Aces, Clackson 2 (Harrison), 6:29; 6, SF, Morrison 2 (Findlay), 10:29; 7, Aces, Crum 1 (Nunn), 18:30. Penalties -- Falite, SF (tripping), 1:12; Isherwood, SF (roughing), 6:42; Clackson, Aces (roughing), 6:42; Falite, SF (roughing), 19:13.
Third Period -- 8, Aces, Harrison 3 (Nunn), 12:58; 9, Aces, Hughes 3 (Hall), 13:40; 10, SF, D. Ouellet 2 (Cameron, Sivak), 15:41; 11, SF, Falite 2 (Belan, C. Ouellet), 16:01. Penalties -- Crum, Aces (high-sticking), 1:54.
Shots on goal -- Aces 8-22-8--38. SF 12-11-11--34.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 4. SF 0 of 2.
Goalies -- Aces, Guggenberger, 2-0 (34 shots-29 saves). SF, Heemskerk (19-16); Nelson, enter 6:29 2nd period, 1-0 (19-16).
A -- 3,178 (8,500). T -- 2:25.
Referee -- J.M McNulty. Linesmen -- Steven Walsh, Zach Thornton.