While the Las Vegas Wranglers were giving the visiting Alaska Aces the business in the second period Tuesday night, the Colorado Eagles were at home some 600 miles away taking care of business for the Aces.
The ECHL-leading Aces were buried by a rapid, three-goal onslaught in the middle period in falling 4-2 in Sin City, yet Colorado's 3-0 victory over the visiting Ontario Reign did the Aces an enormous favor.
Colorado's win behind a shutout by Damien Ketlo in his professional debut halved the Aces' magic number over the Reign in the chase for the Brabham Cup as regular-season champions to just two points.
Alaska's magic number -- that's any combination of points won by the Aces or squandered by their pursuers -- is three over Gwinnett and two over Elmira.
Thus, with a victory Wednesday night in Bakersfield, the Aces can eliminate Ontario from contention and also seize the Western Conference crown, which would earn them a first-round bye in the Kelly Cup playoffs. An Alaska victory would also eliminate Elmira for Brabham consideration and reduce its magic number over Gwinnett to just two.
Ontario plays at Colorado again Wednesday night. And teams in the minor-league hockey circuit's Eastern Conference can also lend the Aces help Wednesday night, when Gwinnett plays at Florida and Elmira plays at Trenton.
Of course, the Aces (42-17-10) can also champion their own cause at Bakersfield.
Immediately after coming up bust in Las Vegas, the Aces boarded a bus for the nearly 300-mile, overnight trip to Bakersfield, which is about as awesome as it sounds.
Aces coach Rob Murray said in his postgame radio interview that he will start rookie goaltender James Reid against the Condors.
Reid should be fresh. Reigning ECHL Goaltender of the Year Gerald Coleman has played all three games for the Aces since his return from the American Hockey League, and he was subjected to a shooting gallery Tuesday -- at least by Aces standards.
The Aces allow the fewest shots on goal of any club in the 20-team league -- they entered Tuesday surrendering just 25.7 shots per game -- but explosive Las Vegas (41-22-7) unlimbered 36 shots on Coleman (32 saves), including 17 in the second period.
Those 17 shots tied the second-most the Aces have given up in a period in 69 games this season and the 36 tied the fourth-most they have allowed in a game.
Much of the ammunition came from the line of center Adam Miller (one goal, two assists) and wingers Eric Lampe (one goal, one helper) and Judd Blackwater (one goal, one assist), the former Ace. That line combined for 16 shots on goal and was instrumental in the three-goal barrage that took just 5 minutes, 40 seconds, wiped out the Aces' 1-0 lead after one period and delivered a 3-1 Wranglers lead.
Lampe got things rolling when he took an indirect pass from Miller off the boards, got in behind Aces defenseman Chad Anderson and beat Coleman with a backhander. Miller got around defenseman Bryan Miller and put a backhand through Coleman's pads and Ash Goldie, the younger brother of Alaska's Wes Goldie, the ECHL's all-time sniper, piled on with a goal.
Ash Goldie's goal came in his first game back since missing three months with a shoulder injury.
Although Aces defenseman Tyson Marsh cut the deficit to 3-2 with his rebound goal late in the second period -- that was Marsh's first goal in 30 games this season -- Blackwater's goal midway through the third period iced the win for Las Vegas.
Shuffling the deck
Aces captain Brian Swanson opened the scoring with a first-period goal off an assist from defenseman Brandon Gentile, who played his first game for the Aces since Jan. 7.
Gentile, who has been in the AHL since then, flew cross country Tuesday and arrived in Nevada in the afternoon, then played.
Swanson has one point in each of the last four games.
Aces veteran defenseman Steve Ward sat out injured for the seventh time in the last eight games. He missed six games with a concussion, came back for a game in Ontario last week and has now been put on the 3-day injured reserve, which means he will not play Wednesday in Bakersfield.
The Aces lost their three-game streak (2-0-1) of going without a regulation loss.
Alaska has allowed opponents 30 or more shots on goal just 15 times in 69 games.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 1 1 0 -- 2
Las Vegas 0 3 1 -- 4
First Period -- 1, Aces, Swanson 9 (Gentile), 17:36. Penalties -- None.
Second Period -- 2, Las Vegas, Lampe 36 (A. Miller, Madill), 4:29; 3, Las Vegas, A. Miller 30 (Blackwater), 9:31; 4, Las Vegas, A. Goldie 9 (Wiles), 10:09; 5, Aces, Marsh 1 (Kremyr), 16:49. Penalties -- Langkow, Aces (hooking), 17:53; Weston, Las Vegas (tripping), 19:37.
Third Period -- 6, Las Vegas, Blackwater 20 (Lampe, A. Miller), 8:26. Penalties -- Francis, Las Vegas (hooking), 16:58.
Shots on goal -- Aces 11-7-10--28. Las Vegas 10-17-9--36.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 0 of 2. Las Vegas 1 of 3.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 18-5-3 (36 shots-32 saves). Las Vegas, O'Keefe, 9-9-2 (28-26).
A -- 3,201 (7,773). T -- 2:11.
Referee -- Frederic Leblanc. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Wally Lacroix.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News