Hockey was not so much a game of inches Sunday afternoon as one of millimeters.
Alaska Aces center Bobby Hughes, who had already unleashed a team-high six shots on goal inside Sullivan Arena, struck the crossbar with his breakaway wrister 67 seconds into overtime.
Just 74 seconds later, San Francisco Bulls winger Peter Sivak delivered his game-high eighth shot on goal with a splendid deflection that redirected the puck just under the crossbar to give the visitors a 3-2 victory.
Sivak's goal came seconds after net-crashing Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault knocked the cage off its moorings in the Bulls crease. Referee Ryan Murphy correctly allowed play to continue because the Bulls possessed the puck on the counter-attack.
"He was yelling, 'Play on, play on,' '' said Bulls goaltender Taylor Nelson (38 saves).
San Francisco's Dean Ouellet carried the puck into Alaska's zone on right wing and furnished a centering pass that Sivak, a Czech, tipped over the right shoulder of Aces goalie Mark Guggenberger (23 saves) for his team-high 20th goal.
"That's the way it goes,'' said Aces captain Steve Ward. "One chance, one way, and it's going to come back the other way.
"Great tip. One of their top guys came through, and that's what they needed. That's hockey.''
Sivak also scored a game-tying power-play goal early in the third period and assisted on Ouellet's first-period strike.
The game nearly ended earlier in overtime when Hughes, who enjoyed several great scoring chances in the matinee, collected a Rob Kwiet turnover at the Aces' blue line and sprung himself on a breakaway. The puck bobbled onto its edge and into Hughes' skates just as he crossed the Bulls blue line, but he kicked it back onto his stick with plenty of time to size up Nelson.
"I didn't panic,'' Hughes said. "I booted it up and regrouped. I'd have liked not to have to look down, but I still had an idea of going high glove or low blocker.
"It just seems not to want to go in for me. I just need one, and they'll go in.''
From Nelson's perspective, Hughes seemed to be coming in alone on him for an eternity.
"It reminded me of being back home in Saskatchewan, when you lose your dog and watch him run away for four days. You could see (Hughes) coming forever. His mind was probably going, the same as mine.
"When I heard it go off the bar, it was a relief, to be honest. That's how the game seemed to be going for me.''
Sivak's game-tying goal came off a no-look, cross-ice, backhand feed from defenseman Cody Carlson. Carlson was in the left circle when he fanned on a forehand pass. He promptly whistled a backhand pass to Sivak, whose blistering one-timer never gave Guggenberger a chance.
Sivak in the first period drew two defenders to him on right wing, then threaded a pass to Ouellet, who cut in alone on Guggenberger and tucked a backhand between his pads for his 19th goal, tied for tops among league rookies.
The Aces (32-11-3) responded in a hockey heartbeat to start the second period. After Hughes and Imbeault combined to swipe a Kwiet pass, Imbeault fed newcomer Shawn Skelley, who beat Nelson with a wrister from the inner edge of the right circle just nine seconds into the period.
Alaska winger Jarred Smith generated his team's lone lead of the game midway through the second, when he slammed home a rebound of Samson Mahbod's backhand for a 2-1 edge.
But that was all the Aces got on Nelson and San Francisco (17-21-5) despite a 40-26 edge in shots.
Nelson made a couple of pivotal stops on Hughes in the first half of the third period, stopping him from the low slot and later flashing his pad to deny Hughes' one-timer from the slot.
Sunday marked the first time this season the Aces have not protected a lead after two periods -- they're 21-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes.
They remain atop the 23-team league with 67 points, two ahead of idle Ontario, which has two games in hand. Ontario's .739 winning percentage ranks first in the league, followed by Alaska (.728) and Reading (.727).
"One point is consolation,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray, "but I thought we played really well.''
Shuffling the deck
The Aces have now played eight home series this season, and in going 18-5-1 at Sullivan Arena, have been .500 or better in all eight series.
Skelly's goal nine seconds into the second period was the fastest Aces goal to start a period this season, bettering Brandon Dubinsky's strike 14 seconds into the club's home opener in October.
Alaska again played without first-line center and leading scorer Nick Mazzolini, out for a second straight game with an upper-body injury. With Mazzolini out, 18 different Aces have missed a combined 288 games to injury this season.
With so many personnel changes of late, Aces captain Ward said the team is looking at the big picture.
"Like (Murray) said, we're never satisfied with a loss, but we're a team that's building,'' Ward said. "It's not about one game or one weekend. It's about gearing up for the playoffs.''
Sivak's power-play goal was just San Francisco's second in 25 power-play chances against the Aces in six games this season. Alaska went 0 for 4 on the power play.
The Aces this week travel to Las Vegas for games on Friday and Saturday nights.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at and.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
San Francisco 1 0 1 1 -- 3
Aces 0 2 0 0 -- 2
First Period -- 1, SF, D. Ouellet 19 (Sivak, Langdon), 7:46. Penalties -- Hudson, Aces (roughing), 9:37; Belan, SF (slashing), 14:20; Ward, Aces (roughing), 17:55; Lessard, SF, double-minor, served by Benson (roughing), 17:55.
Second Period -- 2, Aces, Skelly 2 (Imbeault, Hughes), :09; 3, Aces, Smith 4 (Mahbod, Hudson), 9:29. Penalties -- C. Ouellet, double-minor (interference, unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:13; Hudson, Aces, major (fighting), 10:30; Clendenning, SF, major (fighting), 10:30.
Third Period -- 4, SF, Sivak 19 (Carlson, C. Ouellet), 3:18 (pp). Penalties -- Crum, Aces (cross-checking), 1:52.
Overtime -- 5, SF, Sivak 20 (D. Ouellet), 2:21. Penalties -- None.
Shots on goal -- SF 8-6-10-2--26. Aces 14-13-11-2--40.
Power-play Opportunities -- SF 1 of 2. Aces 0 of 4.
Goalies -- SF, Nelson, 6-8-2 (40 shots-38 saves). Aces, Guggenberger, 16-6-3 (26-23).
A -- 3,912 (6,399). T -- 2:24.
Referee -- Ryan Murphy. Linesmen -- Steve Glines, Scott Sivulich.
By DOYLE WOODY