Anchorage — In their 10 ECHL seasons, the Alaska Aces have treated the second round of the Kelly Cups playoffs as if it is a franchise birthright.
The Aces on Saturday night advanced to the second round for the ninth time when they eliminated the San Francisco Bulls, 5-3, in California to seize the best-of-7, first-round series in five games.
Bobby Hughes bagged his second two-goal game in two nights to finish the Aces' excellence this season at the Cow Palace, where they went 6-0, winning all three playoff games there and all three of their regular-season games there.
Alaska next faces the winner of the series between the Stockton Thunder and Las Vegas Wranglers, who play Game 7 of their first-round match-up Sunday in California. Alaska owns home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs by virtue of winning an unprecedented third consecutive Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 23-team league.
Games 1 and 2 of the Aces' next series, regardless of the opponent, will be Friday and Saturday nights at Sullivan Arena.
Alaska also received a goal from Alex Hudson, who scored five goals in six hockey games at the Cow Palace this season, a goal from Garry Nunn and an empty-net strike from Zach Harrison.
Gerald Coleman furnished the Aces 27 saves and San Francisco's Thomas Heemskerk stopped 27 shots.
After the teams split the first two games of the series in Anchorage last week, the Aces dispatched the Bulls with three wins in three consecutive nights in California. Alaska won 4-1 Thursday and 6-5 Friday.
Alaska has been reliably forceful this season when they play three games in three nights. In the third game of such series this season, the Aces have gone 5-0-1.
San Francisco, a first-year expansion franchise, opened the scoring Saturday with a rare power-play goal against the Aces. Bryan Cameron took a pass below the goal line to Coleman's left in the first period, stepped out front and lifted a shot over Coleman's glove. That marked the Bulls' first power-play goal of the series and just their third in 14 games against Alaska this season.
But Hughes answered less than three minutes later when he forced a turnover at the San Francisco line to spring a 2-on-1 with linemate Alexandre Imbeault. Hughes shoveled Imbeault's cross-ice pass behind Heemskerk on the stick side for a 1-1 tie.
Hughes gave the Aces a 2-1 lead about eight minutes into the second period when he ripped a shot into a largely open net after captain Steve Ward hit the post with a power-play shot.
Hudson scored late in the second period off Chris Clackson's cross-ice pass for a 3-1 Alaska cushion.
Garry Nunn redirected Kane Lafranchise's shot-pass from the left circle on a power play less than four minutes into the third period for a 4-1 lead. Hughes also assisted on the play to give him five goals and nine points in five series games.
Nunn's goal became pivotal when Peter Sivak and Dean Ouellet scored goals for the Bulls late in the third period to cut Alaska's lead to 4-3.
But Harrison scored his empty-net goal with 62 seconds left in advance the Aces to the second round.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.