The Alaska Aces and Colorado Eagles are evidently incapable of playing a boring hockey game.
At least that’s the takeaway from their three-game ECHL series that wrapped up Saturday night at Sullivan Arena, where the Aces posted a come-from-ahead 4-3 victory that marked their sixth straight win.
That came on the heels of Friday’s 5-4 overtime win, in which the Aces never led until defenseman Kane Lafranchise’s decisive strike. And that followed Wednesday’s 4-3 win, in which the Aces never led until Scott Gomez’s game-winning goal in the third period.
“We won three games in three different ways,’’ said Aces center Nate Thompson.
Saturday, the Aces (11-4-0) were seemingly in command late, although it’s worth noting that the Eagles (6-6-3) are so offensively potent they may never be truly out of a game unless all of their sticks are removed from the bench.
Alaska led 4-2 with one minute left when Eagles goaltender Kyle Jones raced to the bench and was replaced by a sixth attacker. Just eight seconds later, Kyle Ostrow scored from the high slot to cut Alaska’s lead to 4-3.
And with just 16.2 seconds remaining, and Jones again off for a sixth attacker, Lafranchise was penalized by referee Nick Leduc for closing his hand on the puck — allegedly, Lafranchise added, swearing he only swept the puck to teammate Joey Crabb with his gloved left hand and did not close said hand on vulcanized rubber.
Anyhow, the Aces and their standing-room-only crowd of 6,599 escaped those tortuous last seconds, and promptly exhaled.
“Real exciting,’’ Thompson said before pausing momentarily to grin and file an addendum, “for the fans.
“In the third period, we got a little complacent and softened up in some D-zone and neutral-zone areas. And give them credit, they’re a great offensive team.’’
Crabb said close games are fine as long as the outcomes are favorable.
“Doesn’t bother me, as long as we win,’’ he said. “It’s good, fun to win close games. Tonight was easier than playing from behind.’’
That the Aces entered the third period with a 4-1 cushion was due in large part to their contingent of NHLers, who are skating for their hometown team during the lockout.
Center Scott Gomez (Montreal Canadiens) furnished one goal and two assists. Crabb (Washington Capitals) delivered one of each. And Thompson (Tampa Bay Lightning) generated a goal.
Nick Mazzolini furnished the other goal, which marked his eighth of the season and tied injured NHLer Brandon Dubinsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) for the club lead.
Crabb got the show going three minutes into the game when Gomez broke into Colorado’s zone on right wing and chipped a deft backhand pass to Garry Nunn in the middle of the ice. Nunn relayed the puck to Crabb, whose one-timer from the left circle gave Eagles starter Tyler Plante (14 saves) no hope.
Thompson and Gomez struck 78 seconds apart in the second period. Thompson scored two seconds after a Colorado power play expired, when Crabb drew two defensemen to him and dished to Thompson at the bottom of the left circle. Thompson fired into the open net behind Plante.
Gomez beat Plante with a high-slot wrister over the glove, courtesy of a Mazzolini pass.
Dylan Hood gained position on Aces defenseman William Wrenn in a race for a loose puck and slid a shot past Mark Guggenberger (18 saves) to cut Alaska’s lead to 3-1 later in the second period.
A couple minutes after that, Plante, who apparently was hobbled in the lower-body by a relatively tame collision with Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault, exited the game. He was replaced by Kyle Jones (11 saves), who Mazzolini greeted with a power-play one-timer for a 4-1 lead that lasted into the second intermission.
Colorado’s Jack Combs, who briefly played for the Aces in his rookie season of 2009-10, closed the gap to 4-2 seven minutes into the third period.
Still, the Aces seemed safe — until Colorado unleashed its last-minute push.
But the Aces survived and Guggenberger, making his 12th consecutive start, posted his league-leading 10th victory.
With their three-game sweep, the Aces also moved into a tie with the Ontario Reign (11-4-0) for first place in the Western Conference.
“It’s six points,’’ Thompson said of the sweep, “six great points.’’
Shuffling the deck
The game-tying, third-period goal originally credited to Crabb on Friday night has been switched to Lafranchise. Lafranchise also furnished the game-winning strike in overtime.
Lafranchise’s point streak was snapped at four games. Crabb’s one goal and one assist pushed his point streak to four games — he’s 2-4—6 in that span. Thompson also has points in four straight with 4-2—6 totals.
Defenseman Russ Sinkewich was back in the lineup for the Aces, in place of rookie Chris Haltigin. And forward Bobby Hughes was back in, replacing Jordan Kremyr.
Colorado’s league-leading scorer, Chad Costello, has at least one point in 14 of 15 games after recording an assist Saturday. He’s riding a nine-game point streak in which he has generated 5-14—19 totals.
The Aces on Saturday released defenseman Todd Orlando, who did not play a game for them. He suffered a lower-body injury in training camp.
Alaska is scheduled to fly out of town Tuesday morning on a six-game road trip that takes them to five different cities in two weeks. They open the trip Wednesday night at Idaho, head to Utah for a two-game series, then move on to California for single games at Stockton, Bakersfield and Ontario.
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Colorado 0 1 2 — 3
Aces 1 3 0 — 4
First Period — 1, Aces, Crabb 6 (Nunn, Gomez), 2:55. Penalties — Syvret, Aces (cross-checking), 12:13; Sinkewich, Colorado (delay of game-puck over glass), 13:04; Bowman, Colorado (hooking), 18:42.
Second Period — 2, Aces, Thompson 4 (Crabb), 5:41; 3, Aces, Gomez 2 (Mazzolini, Nunn), 6:59; 4, Colorado, Hood 3 (Combs, Daavettila), 12:39; 5, Aces, Mazzolini 8 (Syvret, Gomez), 17:31 (pp). Penalties — Gomez, Aces (high-sticking), 3:39; Sides, Coloardo (boarding), 16:33; Sol, Colorado (roughing), 18:30.
Third Period — 6, Colorado, Combs 10 (Costello, Bowman), 6:48; 7, Colorado, Ostrow 1 (Ulanski, Bowman), 19:08. Penalties — Hood, Colorado (slashing), 3:04; Lafranchise, Aces (closing hand on puck), 19:43.
Shots on goal — Colorado 10-5-6—21. Aces 10-12-7—29.
Power-play Opportunities — Colorado 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 4.
Goalies — Colorado, Plante (17 shots-14 saves), Jones, 4-5-2 (12-11). Aces, Guggenberger, 10-3-0 (21-18).
A — 6,599 (6,399). T — 2:18.
Referee — Nick Leduc. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.
By DOYLE WOODY