Given the cushion of the Alaska Aces’ 5-1 victory over the Utah Grizzlies on Friday night, and especially considering they dropped a three-goal anvil on the visitors in the opening six minutes, you could be excused for thinking it was a blowout.
Yet a pivotal sequence midway through the ECHL game at Sullivan Arena had the Grizzlies on the cusp of a comeback that would have trimmed the Aces’ advantage to a single goal.
And then, in a matter of seconds, all the Grizzlies presumably harbored were thoughts of what might have been.
Well, that, and a 4-1 deficit.
All because Aces goaltender Olivier Roy produced a save — followed by a dose of puck luck — that was so good he might as well have been wearing a cape over his No. 35 sweater.
With the Aces leading 3-1 and on the power play, Roy skated behind his net to retrieve the puck. Also back there was defenseman Drew MacKenzie. Somehow, the puck popped out into the slot, directly to Utah’s Brent Gwidt, who was looking at an open net.
Gwidt fired on the open net, and as he did, Roy leaped airborne through his crease from left to right. The puck ricocheted off Roy’s right arm, he said, then off the goalpost and back into the slot.
“I thought I had more time,’’ Roy said. “It’s a routine play. I over-handled the puck. We got lucky it didn’t burn us.’’
On the immediate counterattack, Evan Trupp (one goal, two assists) snapped an 11-game goal drought when Mathew Sisca’s centering pass deflected off his leg and past Utah goalie Ben Meisner.
Just seconds before, with the puck on Gwidt’s stick and Roy MIA, Trupp assumed his club’s lead was about to be shrunk to 3-2.
“With an open net, not good thoughts were going through my mind,’’ he said. “I assumed it would be a goal. We dodged a bullet.’’
Brendan Connolly of the Aces was no less incredulous at Roy’s work.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, no,’ ” Connolly said. “ ‘Goal for sure.’ It was unbelievable. You talk about a turning point.’’
Roy said that when he saw the puck going to Gwidt, all he could think was to try to get back to his crease and somehow deliver a miracle save.
“At least a stick, or an arm out there,’’ he said. “You’ve got to try. You can’t quit on that play. You never know.’’
And so it goes for the Aces (16-7-1), who have not been beaten in regulation in their last five games (4-0-1).
And so it goes for the Grizzlies (7-13-3), who have not won in their last six games (0-5-1).
Roy made 36 saves and he continued to torment the Grizzlies. He’s 4-1-0 against them this season, with two shutouts, a 0.79 goals-against average and a .974 save percentage. Not surprisingly, he will start Saturday night’s series finale between the clubs.
The Aces appeared to have the game in hand early, chasing Grizzlies starting goalie Nick Niedert with three goals in the opening 6:07. That marked the eighth time this season the Aces have scored three goals in a span of less than seven minutes.
Tommy Mele, who snapped a 14-game goal drought with his strike in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Utah, now owns a two-game goal streak. He got things started when he broke in alone on Niedert courtesy of Trupp’s feed. Ross Ring-Jarvi, left shockingly alone at the edge of Niedert’s crease, banged in Tim Coffman’s feed. And rookie center Eli Zuck soon followed with his first pro goal, which came when he drove to the net and redirected captain Nick Mazzolini’s slap-pass.
“My stick was down, right next to (the Utah defenseman’s) skate,’’ Zuck said. “I’m pretty sure it went off my (stick’s) heel, or something.’’
Zuck conceded he’s going to have to embellish the circumstances of his first pro goal to give the story a little more sizzle.
Norm Ezekiel scored Utah’s only goal on a delayed penalty 47 seconds before Trupp struck after Roy’s miraculous save.
Sisca (one goal, two helpers) put a bow on the victory when he beat Meisner high to blocker side shortly before the Aces killed off consecutive penalties, including a 99-second span when Utah enjoyed a two-man advantage.
Roy made five saves during those Grizzlies power plays.
“He’s been an absolute rock,’’ Connolly said.
Shuffling the deck
Roy, who has started 10 of the last 11 games, moved over .500 for the first time this season at 6-5-0. He owns an overall goals-against average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .929.
The Aces improved to 8-2-0 at home and the Grizzlies dropped to 1-9-0 on the road.
Sisca owns 6-7—13 totals in 13 games since the Aces signed him. He has points in four straight games, with 3-3—6 totals in that span.
Mazzolini owns 1-3—4 totals in his four-game points streak. And Ring-Jarvi has a three-game point streak in which he owns 1-3—4 totals.
Mele received a major penalty and game misconduct for kneeing Vinny Scarsella in the third period. That infraction could be reviewed by the ECHL to see if a suspension is warranted.
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Utah 0 1 0 — 1
Aces 3 1 1 — 5
First Period — 1, Aces, Mele 5 (Trupp, Sisca), 1:07; 2, Aces, Ring-Jarvi 2 (Coffman, Connolly), 2:56; 3, Aces, Zuck 1 (Mazzolini, Sivak), 6:07. Penalties — Hogg, Utah (goaltender interference), 15:02; Pelech, Utah (elbowing), 18:55.
Second Period — 4, Utah, Ezekiel 2 (O’Keefe, Scarsella), 11:05; 5, Aces, Trupp 8 (Sisca, Connolly), 11:52 (pp). Penalties — Connolly, Aces (goaltender interference), 1:40; Zahn, Utah (delay of game-puck over glass), 5:10; Paquette, Utah (high-sticking), 11:17; Crum, Aces (roughing), 12:59; Hogg, Utah (roughing), 12:59.
Third Period — 6, Aces, Sisca 6 (Trupp, MacKenzie), 10:08. Penalties — Hogg, Utah (high-sticking), 3:33; Sisca, Aces (slashing), 3:41; O’Brien, Utah (high-sticking), 6:01; Mele, Aces, double major-misconduct, served by Coffman (kneeing, fighting), 11:16; Hogg, Utah, minor-major (fighting, roughing), 11;16; Molle, Aces, major-game misconduct (fighting-secondary altercation), 11:16; Zahn, Utah, major-misconduct (fighting-secondary altercation), 11:16; Gorham, Aces (tripping), 10:24.
Shots on goal — Utah 8-12-17—37. Aces 13-8-7—28.
Power-play Opportunities — Utah 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 6.
Goalies — Utah, Niedert, 0-1-0 (8 shots-5 saves); Meisner, enter 6:07 1st period (20-18). Aces, Olivier Roy, 6-5-0 (37-36).
A — 4,466 (6,399). T — 2:27.
Referee — Don Jablonski. Linesmen — Travis Jackson, Scott Sivulich.