The Alaska Aces got a hat trick and four points from Brandon Dubinsky, a three-helper night from Nate Thompson and a highlight-reel assist from Joey Crabb. They killed eight of nine San Francisco power plays. And Mark Guggenberger produced another strong night in net.
Also, the Aces reeled off four third-period goals for the second straight night and third time in six games this season — no other team in the ECHL owns a four-goal third period this season.
Still, the Aces’ 5-2 victory over the Bulls on Saturday night turned on an early third-period sequence in which the visitors generated a tie only to have their hosts turn into a rapid-response team at Sullivan Arena.
Just 13 seconds after Jordan Clendenning’s goal delivered a 1-1 tie, Dubinsky scored the second of his three goals, all of which came off assists from Thompson. Alexandre Imbeault absorbed a cross-check behind the Bulls net to keep the puck alive, Thompson gathered it and centered to Dubinsky, who scored from point-blank range.
And, suddenly, the momentum San Francisco gathered shifted back to Alaska.
“The shift after you score a goal or get scored on is always the biggest shift of the game,’’ Dubinsky said. “Hockey is all about momentum swings. When you have it, how long can you sustain it? And when you don’t have it, how quickly can you get it back?’’
Dubinsky’s first goal, just 18 seconds in, created momentum the Aces (4-2-0) carried for more than two periods. His second goal snatched the momentum from San Francisco (2-3-2) in a hockey heartbeat in the middle game of a three-game set that wraps up Sunday afternoon.
“We get a goal, and then we have a D break a skate on the next shift,’’ said Bulls coach Pat Curcio. “Those kinds of things happen. All we can do is control our work ethic, and we worked real hard tonight.
“We keep working like that, we’ll get some bounces.’’
For the second straight night, the Bulls received quality goaltending — Taylor Nelson made 25 saves and kept the Aces’ lead at 1-0 through two periods. That effort came one night after Thomas Heemskerk made 40 saves in a 4-1 loss — the Aces’ final goal Friday was an empty-netter, just like Saturday, when Dubinsky polished his hat trick with an empty-net goal.
But with Guggenberger sharp — he has surrendered three goals in the last three games — and Alaska’s penalty killers continuing stellar work, the Aces won their third straight game.
The Aces, who last season finished second on the circuit in penalty killing, have killed 32 of their opponents’ 34 power plays this season. They rank second in the league with 94.3 percent efficiency.
In killing consecutive San Francisco power plays in the second period, a plethora of Aces made contributions.
Thompson blocked a shot. Alain Goulet did likewise. William Wrenn broke up a 2-on-1. Thompson won a defensive zone draw and moments later blocked a shot. Nick Mazzolini broke up a play at his blue line. Jordan Kremyr stole the puck at San Francisco’s line. Dubinsky snared a loose puck and dumped it the length of the ice. Garry Nunn made a steal that led to a short-handed chance for Dubinsky.
And backstopping it all was Guggenberger, who made five saves on those two man advantages for the Bulls.
“I think right now we have quality penalty killers on the ice at any time,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray. “And right now they’re really in synch.’’
After Dubinsky’s cross-ice feed set up defenseman Chris Haltigin’s power-play strike for a 3-1 lead with about 11 minutes to go, the Aces ran into penalty trouble. Haltigin took a double minor for high-sticking and Russ Sinkewich soon took a cross-checking penalty. Those gave the Bulls a two-man advantage for a full two minutes.
Former Idaho sniper Evan Barlow scored a 5-on-3 goal that cut Alaska’s lead to 3-2 with exactly seven minutes to go. Still, the Aces killed off the remaining power play.
“We can’t test the PK like that,’’ Thompson said. “We probably took some undisciplined penalties. It made it a lot more interesting than it needed to be.’’
Two minutes after Barlow’s goal, though, Crabb blew down the right wing, drew the attention of three defenders, pulled the rookie Nelson to his post, circled the net and fed Mazzolini for a tap-in and a 4-2 lead.
“I just watched all the (San Francisco) guys get puck-focused and I tried to find an open spot,’’ Mazzolini said.
Shuffling the deck
Dubinsky fired a game-high eight shots on goal and has unleashed 17 shots with four goals in the series’ first two games.
Kremyr was back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Friday. Bobby Hughes was scratched for the first time this season.
Scott Gomez, the NHLer from Anchorage, worked as a color commentator for Aces radio/TV play-by-play man Josh Bogorad.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 0 0 2 — 2
Aces 1 0 4 — 5
First Period — 1, Aces, Dubinsky 3 (Thompson), :18. Penalties — Crabb, Aces (high-sticking), 4:39; Wilson, San Francisco (tripping), 7:23; Dubinsky, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 11:14; Wilson, San Francisco (unsportsmanlike conduct), 11:14; Gorham, Aces (slashing), 18:19.
Second Period — None. Penalties — Ouellet, San Francisco (slashing), :47; Belan, San Francisco (boarding), 1:12; Crabb, Aces (tripping), 11:01; Thompson, Aces (unsportsmanlike conduct), 13:02; Belan, San Francisco (boarding), 16:23; Crabb, Aces (roughing), 18:47; King, San Francisco (roughing), 18:47; Clendenning, San Francisco (slashing), 18:47.
Third Period — 2, San Francisco, Clendenning 2 (Ouellet), 2:56; 3, Aces, Dubinsky 4 (Thompson, Imbeault), 3:09; 4, Aces, Haltigin 2 (Dubinsky), 8:31 (pp); 5, San Francisco, Barlow 1 (Ouellet, Morrison), 13:00 (pp); 6, Aces, Mazzolini 3 (Crabb, Haltigin), 14:44; 7, Aces, Dubinsky 5 (Thompson), 19:01 (sh-en). Penalties — Clendenning, San Francisco (interference), 7:34; Haltigin, Aces, double minor (high-sticking), 10:34; Sinkewich, Aces (cross-checking), 11:56; Molle, Aces, major (fighting), 15:02; Langdon, San Francisco, major (fighting), 15:02; Robinson, Aces (high-sticking), 15:02; Gorham, Aces (slashing), 17:41.
Shots on goal — San Francisco 6-8-6—20. Aces 9-15-6--30.
Power-play Opportunities — San Francisco 1 of 9. Aces 1 of 6.
Goalies — San Francisco, Nelson, 1-1-1 (29 shots-25 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 3-1-0 (20-18).
A — 4,556 (6,399). T — 2:26.
Referee — Dan Jablonski. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.
Woody on Hockey
By DOYLE WOODY