It never hurts to be lucky, even when dominating the run of play.
The Alaska Aces kept the puck in Ontario's zone for most of Saturday's 3-0 ECHL victory, but failed to capitalize on many good scoring chances at Sullivan Arena. The game-winning goal was an unlikely bomb from the blue line by Peter Sivak, a shot that sailed above open ice, hit the back shoulder of Ontario goalie Michael Hutchinson and maintained enough momentum to hit the far side of the net up high.
"In my country, we say, 'if you don't know what you mean with puck, shoot to net,' " said Sivak, who is from the Czech Republic.
The goal came less than three minutes in to the second period, and caught everyone, including the fans, by surprise. Cheers from the crowd were delayed a moment, in sharp contrast to a first period full of anticipatory cheers that turned to disappointed groans.
The Aces (18-8-1) outshot Ontario 16-4 in the first period, but were left frustrated. Coming out of the frame empty handed gave the Reign (20-5-1) an opportunity to gain momentum by feeling fortunate to have weathered a storm, Aces coach Rob Murray said.
"We were playing well and got nothing to show for it," he said. "But I thought we maintained that level of play throughout the game. In the third period, we may have sat back a little bit, protecting the lead, but overall we were pretty sound in a lot of the aspects of the game."
Tommy Mele added another goal for the Aces with 4:15 to play in the second period, nailing a hard shot from the right wing that ripped into the near side of the net. The game's final goal was Sivak's second, an empty-netter with 22 seconds left. The goals were Sivak's eighth and ninth of the season, but first in several games and Murray said there was a noticeable change in the right wing's demeanor after the first one went in.
"It kind of got him going," Murray said. "He was more tenacious, he was faster, working harder. All aspects of his game picked up after that."
Olivier Roy earned a 16-save shutout for the Aces, facing some seriously threatening fire at times. Ultimately, he credited the defense for a game well played.
"They made the game kind of boring for me," Roy said. "They don't give up a lot of shots, a lot of scoring chances, so I need to find a way to always stay focused in those kind of games."
The defense came up with its biggest stop in the latter stages of the second period, when the Aces killed a 5-on-3 Ontario advantage that lasted 1 minute, 6 seconds. Ontario kept the puck dancing around the goal, but somehow the Aces kept it out of the net. The Aces have done a nice job of killing 5-on-3s this season, Murray said, but luck plays a distinct role in those tenuous scenarios.
"It's really a crapshoot," he said. You can do everything right and a goal will go in on you, but we did everything right and put ourselves in a position to be successful."
Mele's goal came shortly after the crucial penalty kill, and the Aces carried a 2-0 lead to the conclusion of the second period. The Aces appeared in control throughout the third, improving to 16-0-1 when taking a lead into the final frame this season.
Ontario's loss was its first in 10 road games, but the team is still atop Western Conference. Ontario, which beat the Aces on Friday, will complete the three-game series Tuesday at 7:15 p.m.
"It's a good measuring stick for us right now," Murray said. "We elevated our game from last night to tonight."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
First Period -- Penalties -- None.
Second Period -- 1, Aces, Sivak 8 (Martin, Molle), 2:42; 2, Aces, Mele 7 (Trupp, Sisca), 15:45. Penalties -- Richard, Aces (interference), 3:40; Couture, Reign (cross-checking), 7:27; Richard, Aces (slashing), 7:27; Sol, Reign (tripping), 8:59; Molle, Aces (cross-checking), 12:07; MacKenzie, Aces (delay of game), 12:58.
Third Period -- 3 (en), Aces, Sivak 9 (Richard, Ring-Jarvi) Penalties -- None.
Shots on goal -- Ontario 4-7-5--16. Aces 16-10-6--32.
Power-play Opportunities -- Ontario 0 of 3. Aces 0 of 1.
Goalies -- Ontario, Hutchinson, 16-8-5 (31 shots-29 saves). Aces, Roy, 4-7-5 (16-16).
A -- 5,389. T -- 2:09.
Referee -- Andrew Wilk. Linesmen -- Steve Sivulich, Travis Jackson.