Thursday was a day off in California for the Alaska Aces -- no practice -- but they don't expect much leisure time Friday night in Game 4 of their ECHL Western Conference semifinal series with the Stockton Thunder.
Coming off a 4-0 win Wednesday at Stockton Arena that earned them a 2-1 edge in the best-of-7 series, the Aces believe the Thunder will push back -- and hard.
"I imagine the first five or 10 minutes of the game, they'll be coming at us hard and continue the physical play,'' Aces captain Brian Swanson said by cell phone. "There will be more of that, especially with (an anticipated) bigger crowd.
"I'm sure they'll be ramping up even more.''
Wednesday's win assured the Aces that they can do no worse than get the series back to Anchorage for a Game 6. But another Stockton loss Friday would turn Saturday's Game 5 into an elimination game for the Thunder.
Stockton coach Matt Thomas is known for getting his hockey club ready to roll, and after Wednesday's game he sounded like a bench boss who will be imploring his team to play with urgency.
"We didn't earn the inches of ice you need to get to win in the playoffs,'' Thomas told the Stockton Record.
The Aces, meanwhile, would love nothing better than a repeat of Wednesday's performance, which featured 22 saves from Gerald Coleman, goals from all three lines, a streak-busting power-play goal -- the Aces had failed on 27 straight power plays before Ryan Cruthers' strike -- and a 40-22 advantage in shots. The Aces outshot the Thunder 31-9 in the final two periods.
"We've got to get the message across -- nothing changes,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray. "Same as Wednesday night, play that way.''
When Alaska's victory was in hand late in Game 3, the Thunder didn't shut it down. They kept getting in the Aces' faces, but the Aces didn't bite.
"That's the game within the game,'' Swanson said. "They're trying to get under our skin and we're trying to stay away from it.''
Shuffling the deck
Murray said rookie defenseman David Shields was scheduled to fly into California on Thursday night after being loaned to the club by the Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League.
Murray said he doesn't foresee sticking Shields into the lineup for Game 4 because he liked what he saw from his six defensemen in Game 3.
Coleman lowered his goals-against average to 1.27 and raised his save percentage to .948. Last postseason, he furnished 1.73 and .938 in 12 games (11-1) on the way to backstopping the Aces to the Kelly Cup.
Of the 17 skaters the Aces have used in three playoff games, 16 have delivered at least one point -- rookie winger Tim Hall, who played in the first two game, is the only Aces skater without a point.
Winger Wes Goldie leads the Aces in playoff plus-minus at plus-4, and no Aces skater is a minus.
Winger Dan Kissel, who led the Aces in shots on goal in the regular season with 3.97 per game, has fired a team-high 14 so far for an average of 3.97. Goldie, who averaged 3.49 shots per game in the regular season for second on the club, has 11 in three games (3.67). But the surprise is rookie winger Jordan Kremyr, who averaged 1.96 shots per game in the regular season but has generated 12 shots in three games (4.00).
Center Chris D'Alvise, the Game 2 overtime hero for Stockton, leads his club with 31 shots in six playoff games (5.00).
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.Blog: Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News