The spirit-crushing, game-turning goal Alaska Aces center Nick Mazzolini dropped on the Utah Grizzlies — he delivered a third-period strike with his team down two men in Monday’s 6-1 matinee road win — occurs so rarely in hockey there’s not a name for it.
Aces bench boss Rob Murray used a golf analogy — “It’s an eagle,’’ he said.
Or, call it a Kimbi.
Mazzolini’s short-handed breakaway goal while Utah enjoyed a 5 on 3 advantage for 70 seconds and a chance to significantly slash Alaska’s 3-1 lead brought to mind former Aces center Kimbi Daniels. Daniels twice in the 2006 playoffs scored goals with his club down two men.
Mazzolini’s team-leading 29th goal — and that ranks him second on the circuit — came when he tipped a pass out of his zone at the Maverik Center as Utah’s Mitch Wahl readied to unleash a one-timer. He outraced Wahl to the puck and beat Adam Morrison with a backhander for a 4-1 lead.
“I’m not sure who made the pass but (Wahl) was cocked, with his stick to the ceiling,’’ Mazzolini said by cellphone from West Valley City. “The pass wasn’t crisp enough, so I was able to read it. I was mostly worried about his stick hitting me in the face on the follow-through.
“Once I got past him, I kept waiting for him to catch me, but evidently (renowned power-skating coach) Laura Stamm’s work is paying off.’’
That goal, Mazzolini’s third in the last three games, all but cemented victory for the ECHL-leading Aces (37-11-6).
“I celebrated so hard I almost hurt myself,’’ Mazzolini cracked.
Shortly after he furnished his third short-handed this season, Mazzolini set up Garry Nunn’s power-play goal, which snapped the winger’s eight-game goal funk. Spencer Bennett added a 5-on-3 power-play goal for his second goal of the game.
All that amply supported another splendid performance from goaltender Mark Guggenberger, who stopped a career-high 50 shots in his third straight start in Utah in the last four days. In those three games — two Alaska wins and a shootout loss — Guggenberger has stopped 122 of 127 shots (.961 save percentage) and generated a 1.62 goals-against average.
“He’s been excellent, beyond excellent,’’ Murray said.
The only goal Guggenberger surrendered Monday in a Presidents Day game was a 60-foot floater from former Aces winger Kory Falite late in the first period. Guggenberger whiffed on a glove save to give Utah a 1-0 lead 17 minutes into the game.
But Guggenberger also stopped 23 shots in the first period. Those 24 shots in the opening 20 minutes were the most surrendered by the Aces in a period this season. In 20 of their 54 games this season, the Aces have held opponents to 24 shots or fewer in an entire game.
“He’ll probably beat himself up over that one — there was his shutout,’’ Mazzolini said. “On the bench, we had to realize, we could have been down two or three goals by then. He’s been making a lot of big saves at big times for us.’’
And Guggenberger’s teammates quickly got his back. Jordan Kremyr scored on a rebound 33 seconds after Falite’s goal, B.J. Crum struck 59 seconds after that and Bennett followed just 66 seconds later. Thus did the Aces go from trailing 1-0 with 2:55 left in the first period to taking a 3-1 lead into the dressing room.
“I’m sure that (early Utah) goal gave them a sense of optimism,’’ Murray said. “Then — bang, bang, bang.’’
Utah (20-24-7) again played with just 13 skaters. Its nine forwards and four defensemen left it three skaters short of the maximum.
Alaska (37-11-6), meanwhile, stretched its point streak to 10 games (6-0-4) and its road point streak to seven games (3-0-4).
“A lot of good things,’’ Murray said of Monday’s performance. “To be quite honest, we’re taking advantage of a team that is depleted right now. They’re playing hard. They’re not rolling over.’’
The Aces’ victory gives them 80 points in 54 games and a five-point lead in the overall standings on Ontario, which has one game in hand.
Monday’s game marked Alaska’s third in four days. By the time the Aces wrap a four-game series in Utah on Wednesday night and play three games in three nights against visiting Las Vegas later this week, the Aces will have played seven times in 10 days, with a day of travel in there, as well.
That’s why Murray dangled an enticing carrot in front of his team during the second intermission Monday.
“I told them, ‘You guys put in the work right now, and I’ll cancel (Tuesday’s scheduled) practice,’ ” Murray said. “It’s almost like it’s playoffs now.
“You don’t really have to worry about conditioning. You need rest more than anything.’’
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini’s three short-handed goals tie him for third in the league. His 29 total goals are second to Colton Yellow Horn’s 36 for Ontario.
Mazzolini’s goal and assist give him 13 multiple-point games this season. Defenseman Kane Lafranchise’s two assists for the second straight game gives him 11 multiple-point games this season , and Nunn’s goal and assist give him 10 multiple-point games.
Nunn’s 14 goals in 49 games is one shy of his career high. He scored 15 goals in 67 games last season.
Bennett’s two goals give the winger 4-4—8 totals in eight games with the Aces. Alexandre Imbeault (two assists) has generated 3-4—7 totals in the last four games.
Guggenberger’s 50 saves were just two shy of the most by an ECHL goalie this season. Bakersfield’s Brian Stewart stopped 52 shots in a 4-1 win over Colorado last Friday.
The Aces improved to 6-0-1 at the Maverik Center this season and own a 9-3-1 cushion on the Grizzlies in the season series.
Alaska is 16-6-5 (.685 winning percentage) on the road this season, second only to Ontario’s 16-6-3 (.700).
Find Doyle Woody’s blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 3 0 3 — 6
Utah 1 0 0 — 1
First Period — 1, Utah, Falite 11 (Stoflet), 17:05; 2, Aces, Kremyr 3 (Imbeault, Curry), 17:38; 3, Aces, Crum 2 (Skelly, Nunn), 18:37; 4, Aces, Bennett 3 (Lafranchise, Kremyr), 19:43. Penalties — Bennett, Aces (hooking), 6:58; Maxwell, Utah (tripping), 10:05; Maxwell, Utah (roughing), 15:54; Clarkson, Aces (holding), 15:54.
Second Period — None. Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (delay of game-puck over glass), 4:08; Maxwell, Utah (hooking), 8:00; Tuzzolino, Utah (unsportsmanlike conduct), 12:03; Clackson, Aces (roughing), 15:14; Tuzzolino, Utah (interference), 18:42.
Third Period — 5, Aces, Mazzolini 29, 4:42 (sh); 6, Aces, Nunn 14 (Mazzolini, Lafranchise), 6:54 (pp); 7, Aces, Bennett 4 (Imbeault, Hughes), 14:14 (pp). Penalties — Nunn, Aces (slashing), :18; Baran, Aces (tripping), 3:08; Crum, Aces (high-sticking), 3:58; Wahl, Utah (hooking), 6:12; Curry, Aces (tripping), 8:25; Tuzzolini, Utah (slashing), 12:48; Stoflet, Utah (cross-checking), 13:36; Tuzzolino, Utah (misconduct-unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:30.
Shots on goal — Aces 12-13-16—41. Utah 24-15-12—51.
Power-play Opportunities — Aces 2 of 7. Utah 0 of 7.
Goalies — Aces, Guggenbeger, 19-6-5 (51 shots-50 saves). Utah, Morrison, 2-7-2 (41-35).
A – 7,707 (10,200). T – 2:26.
Referee – Joe Sullivan. Linesmen – Scott Ingrham, Patrick Richardson.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News