Alexandre Imbeault authored the game-winning strike in his return to the Alaska Aces. The club’s three NHLers all impacted the score sheet and the game. And a four-goal third-period proved as bountiful as it sounds.
But before the Aces racked Friday night’s come-from-behind, 4-1 ECHL victory over the San Francisco Bulls at Sullivan Arena, they had to crack opposing goaltender Thomas Heemskerk.
An onslaught of 26 shots in the first two periods did not deliver satisfaction of any sort — well, except for Heemskerk, who stopped all 26, which helped the Bulls earn a 1-0 lead through 40 minutes.
Finally, NHLer Brandon Dubinsky broke through.
His power-play wrister, low past Heemskerk’s stick side 56 seconds into the third period, forged a 1-1 tie and delivered the spark that fired up an announced crowd of 4,014.
“It was just a matter of time,’’ Imbeault said. “That goalie made a lot of unbelievable saves in the first two periods, and maybe we were trying to be too fancy.
“That power-play goal got us going, and got the crowd going, and you know when the Sullivan Arena crowd gets going, it gets crazy in here.’’
The Aces (3-2-0) outshot the Bulls (2-2-2) by an 18-4 margin in the final 20 minutes, their barrage aided by crisper play in the defensive zone in front of goalie Mark Guggenberger (18 saves), which translated into more time in the offensive zone.
“We played a much better, detailed game in the third period,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray.
Imbeault, the former Ace who was acquired in a trade with Orlando on Wednesday, generated a 2-1 lead when NHLer Nate Thompson drew a delayed penalty behind the San Francisco net, then dished a backhanded pass to a wide-open Imbeault in the slot. Imbeault’s wrister darted past a scrambling Heemskerk, who didn’t have much of a chance on that play and finished with 40 saves.
“Really nice play by Thompson,’’ Imbeault said. “I tip my hat to him.’’
Imbeault played right wing on Thompson’s line, with Dubinsky on the left side. He said he didn’t feel particularly spry in the opener of the three-game series after flying all day Wednesday.
“My legs felt pretty heavy,’’ he said. “After that shift in the second period, when we had about 10 chances to score, I thought I was going to throw up.’’
The shift Imbeault referenced included a sequence in which Heemskerk lost both his stick and his blocker while chaos surrounded him. He eventually recovered his blocker, just about the time Imbeault fed defenseman Chris Haltigan in the slot. Heemskerk stacked his pads to rebuff Haltigan, then moments later snuffed Dubinsky’s chance to maintain San Francisco’s 1-0 lead, which came on Kevin Baker’s goal six minutes into the second period.
But Dubinsky finally broke through on a night when he generated nine shots on goal.
“I guess if you play the odds and shoot enough, the puck’s going to go in,’’ Dubinsky said.
NHLer Joey Crabb, whose power-play goal with less than three minutes to go provided a 3-1 cushion, turned Heemskerk’s crease into a shooting gallery with nine shots of his own. He also assisted on Nick Mazzolini’s empty-netter — Mazzolini banged in the rebound of Crabb’s shot off the right post. Also, Thompson furnished two assists.
Dubinsky and Crabb’s 18 combined shots on goal were one less than San Francisco’s entire club.
“We cleaned up our defensive zone in the third period, and taking care of the puck got us some sustained pressure,’’ Thompson said. “The goals we’re going to get are second- and third-chance goals. And when you get those, you’ll start getting some first-chance goals.
“It’s the trickle-down effect.’’
The Aces’ first consecutive wins of the season — Guggenberger and company beat Utah, 1-0, last Saturday — also was aided by special-teams perfection.
Alaska scored on both its power plays and killed all three San Francisco power plays. The Aces have killed 25 of 26 opposing power plays in their five games.
Shuffling the deck
Former UAA defenseman Brad Gorham of Anchorage, who closed his college career last spring, made his pro debut after signing an amateur tryout agreement.
Unofficially, he played 15 shifts. And he played well in helping the Aces, who are decimated by injuries on the blue line.
“It felt good,’’ Gorham said. “I was excited to be back on the ice.’’
Gorham, a mechanical engineer for BP, said he plays for a couple of beer-league teams so he skates at least a couple times a week, and still works out.
Injuries to veteran defensemen Steve Ward (broken leg) and Sean Curry (groin) allowed Murray to use his four veteran forwards — Dubinsky, Thompson, Crabb and Matt Robinson — in the same game for the first time this season.
ECHL rules permit each team to play a maximum of four veterans in a game.
Aces goaltender James Reid did not dress. He suffered a lower-body injury in practice this week. Micah Perletti of Anchorage served as Alaska’s emergency back-up goaltender.
San Francisco’s Baker is Kevin M. Baker, and he’s off to a nice start as a pro — the rookie has three goals in six games. Just so there’s no confusion, Kevin R. Baker, who currently plays for Orlando, who is the former ECHL Most Valuable Player. Kevin R. Baker has scored 168 goals in 317 ECHL games.
The Bulls also include forward Evan Barlow, the former Idaho Steelheads sniper who scored 32 goals in just 58 games for Idaho in 2009-10. He fired four shots Friday in his Bulls debut.
ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna attended the game.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 0 1 0 — 1
Aces 0 0 4 — 4
First Period — None. Penalties — None.
Second Period — 1, San Francisco, Baker 3 (Carter, Hendrikx), 6:11. Penalties — Dubinsky, Aces (slashing), 1:09; Morrison, San Francisco (holding), 19:48.
Third Period — 2, Aces, Dubinsky 2 (Wrenn, Thompson), :56 (pp); 3, Aces, Imbeault 1 (Thompson, Wrenn), 6:51; 4, Aces, Crabb 3 (Mazzolini, Goulet), 17:33 (pp); 5, Aces, Mazzolini 2 (Crabb), 19:17 (en). Penalties — Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 1:21; Frank, San Francisco, major (fighting), 1:21; Crabb, Aces (tripping), 2:16; Harrison, Aces (boarding), 12:39; Ouellet, San Francisco (high-sticking), 15:38.
Shots on goal — San Francisco 6-9-4—19. Aces 14-12-18—44.
Power-play Opportunities — San Francisco 0 of 3. Aces 2-2.
Goalies — San Francisco, Heemskerk, 1-2-1 (43 shots-40 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 2-1-0 (19-18).
A — 4,014 (6,399). T — 2:18.
Referee — Don Jablonski. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY