Aces fall to Steelheads again, this time 2-0

Doyle Woody

The Alaska Aces still lead the ECHL’s overall standings, the Western Conference and the Mountain Division, but those are the only edges they have on the Idaho Steelheads.

Otherwise: Advantage Idaho, big-time.

The Steelheads’ 2-0 victory over the Aces on Saturday night in Alaska’s regular-season home finale at Sullivan Arena stamped Idaho’s dominance in the season series.

Idaho (42-17-7) went 6-1-0 in the season series with the Aces and the six points it pocketed from this series when it exited the arena — the Steelheads won 4-3 Friday and 4-3 in overtime Wednesday — made it the first team to take six points from a three-game series at Sullivan since Ontario pulled it off in November 2010.

Alaska (46-14-7) lost consecutive hockey games in regulation for just the fifth time this season, and the Steelheads have had a hand in three of those instances. Saturday’s win also generated the first shutout of the Aces on their home ice since Ontario won 2-0 on Nov. 12, 2011.

Not that the Aces on Saturday before a second straight standing-room-only, announced crowd of 6,599, or throughout the series, were short on opportunity. They outshot the Steelheads 108-63 in the series, but rookie goaltender Josh Robinson was too good — he stopped 102 of those 108 shots, including all 36 he faced Saturday, for a sterling .944 series save percentage.

The one point the Aces salvaged in the series marked the fewest they have taken from any three consecutive games this season.

Still, they didn’t appear to be in search of a panic button.

 “I have no problem with the way my team played,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray. “It’s not the essence of, ‘We’ve got to blow everything up and figure something out.’

“We played hard, we skated hard, fore-checked hard. I have no problem with the effort.’’

Alaska’s magic number for winning the Brabham Cup as overall regular-season champions and winning the Western Conference remains seven — that’s with five games, all on the road, left in the regular season. The Aces’ magic number for winning the Mountain Division held at five.

“It’s obviously a low point this weekend,’’ said Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise. “But it’s just three games. I think it’s a little early to think of it as a slump, but any time you give up six points at home, it’s a tough pill to swallow.’’

Idaho prospered Saturday by virtue of Robinson’s work and goals from Justin Taylor and Austin Smith.

“You go on the road, you hope to get four out of six (points),’’ Robinson said. “And to get all six in a hostile environment is huge.’’

Taylor opened the scoring deep into the second period, when he took a centering pass from David deKastrozza at the edge of the crease and banged a shot that leaked through the pads of Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman (19 saves).

Smith struck four minutes into the second period when he was left unattended in the left circle and one-timed Matt Case’s cross-ice feed off the tip of Coleman’s skate and in for his 26th goal in 33 games. He leads league rookies in goals.

Idaho blocked a slew of shots Saturday and did sound work in keeping Alaska away from second-chance bids.

“Tonight, the guys did a good job of letting me see the shots,’’ Robinson said. “And when there were rebounds, they were there for me. They played their hearts out.’’

The Aces, meanwhile, have to regroup — they open a three-game series at Colorado on Wednesday night.

“It was definitely a tough weekend, because everyone worked hard every night,’’ said Aces winger Garry Nunn. “I felt like we could have won any of those games.

“But they played good hockey, and they’re a very good team. They have our number right now.’’


Shuffling the deck

The Aces played without captain Steve Ward, who took a hard hit from Idaho’s Chase Schaber on Friday and is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

The Aces got former UAA defenseman Brad Gorham to fill in for the 12th game this season.

Murray juggled his lines, moving Nunn off Nick Mazzolini’s line and inserting Tim Hall in his place.

The Aces finished 26-8-2 at Sullivan this regular season. 


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Idaho 0  1  1 — 2

Aces 0  0  0 — 0

First Period — None. Penalties — Baran, Aces (cross-checking), 19:03.

Second Period — 1, Idaho, Taylor 10 (de Kastrozza, Case), 17:35. Penalties — B. Robinson, Idaho (roughing), 6:14.

Third Period — 2, Idaho, Smith 26 (Case, Watters), 4:25. Penalties — Ryder, Idaho (hooking), 11:26.

Shots on goal — Idaho 3-7-11—21. Aces 7-15-14—36.

Power-play Opportunities — Idaho 0 of 1. Aces 0 of 2.

Goalies — Idaho, Robinson, 26-6-4 (36 shots-36 saves). Aces, Coleman, 21-5-2 (21-19).

A — 6,599 (6,399). T — 2:10.

Referee — Chris Pitoscia. Linesmen — Scott Sivulich, Steve Glines.


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