After a combined 20 power-play opportunities, two-man advantages as abundant as seats in the Budweiser Events Center, three ties and three lead changes, the Alaska Aces shrugged off their season-worst slide with Friday night's come-from-behind 5-3 road win over the Colorado Eagles.
And the reward from that rebound, which pushed the ECHL leaders over the 100-point benchmark for the third time in franchise history, put them within arm's reach of a much greater rink reward.
A victory in Saturday's finale of a three-game series in Loveland, Colo., would earn the Aces the Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 23-team hockey league, and thus secure another Western Conference crown, and also stamp their supremacy in the Mountain Division.
With 101 points and three regular-season games remaining, the Aces (47-15-7) own a six-point lead for the Brabham on Ontario, which has 95 points and four games left after falling 3-0 at Idaho on Friday. But because the Aces on Friday secured the tie-breaker over Ontario -- regulation wins -- their magic number for winning the Brabham is two. Any combination of Aces points won or Ontario points lost equaling two delivers the Brabham back to the Aces.
The perks of the Cup includes home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs and bonus money from the league for players on the active roster.
The Aces' magic number for winning the Mountain Division over Idaho is one.
Alaska's victory, which snapped its three-game losing streak and four-game (0-3-1) winless streak, came in a wild one before the usual sell-out crowd of 5,289 at the Budweiser Events Center.
The combined 20 power-play opportunities were the most in any of the Aces' 69 games this season. Their 11 power plays tied their season high. Colorado's nine power plays tied the most for an Aces opponent this season. And the three power-play goals Alaska surrendered were the most its league-leading, penalty-killing unit has permitted this season. Presumably, referee Geoff Miller iced his right arm, which was frequently raised to signal a penalty, after the match.
The game first got seriously wild late in the second period, when the Aces owned a 2-1 lead courtesy of goals from Nick Mazzolini and Bobby Hughes. Mazzolini's first-period strike, which answered Kevin Ulanski's early power-play goal, marked his 36th of the season, which lifted him into a tie with Ontario's Colton Yellow Horn for the ECHL goal-scoring lead -- Yellow Horn has long been promoted to the American Hockey League.
But Alaska's Sean Curry (slashing), Tim Hall (slashing) and Mazzolini (double-minor for high-sticking) were penalized in short order, and Dustin Molle took an interference penalty. All that combined to give Colorado and its league-best power play the advantage throughout the last five minutes of the period, including three instances in which the Eagles enjoyed a two-man advantage.
Alaska's penalty killers nearly escaped that considerable anger, but Eagles defenseman Collin Bowman scored on a 5-on-3 advantage with 32 seconds left in the period and Ulanski followed with a 5-on-4 strike with 7.2 seconds left in the period.
Presto: Colorado 3, Alaska 2.
Yet the third period proved the Eagles' time to march to the penalty box, where revolving doors would have been convenient.
With Bowman just coming out of the box for cross-checking and Dylan Hood serving time for tripping, Hughes generated a game-tying goal on the power play for a 3-3 deadlock five minutes into the period.
Five minutes later, when each club had a guy in the box, Tommy Mele scored on a breakaway furnished by Hall's pass for a 4-3 Aces lead. And defenseman Kane Lafranchise provided a cushion 71 seconds after that with a 5-on-3 goal.
Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman stopped 26 shots and Eagles netminder Adam Brown made 28 saves.
Shuffling the deck
Mazzolini's one-goal, two-assist game marked the fourth time this season he has generated three or more points in a game and marked his 18th multiple-point game of the season. With 35-35--71 totals in 67 games, he is tied for fifth in the league points race.
Mele owns a four-game point streak with 3-2--5 totals in that span. Mele was inserted in the lineup Friday when winger Alexandre Imbeault sat out with a bad back. Imbeault has missed nine of the last 14 games with that ailment.
The Aces' 101 points are the third-most in their 10 ECHL seasons. The 2005-06 Kelly Cup-winning team racked 113 points and the 2006-07 team earned 105. Alaska finished each of the last two seasons with 97 points, which was good enough to win the Brabham in both years.
At 21-7-5 (.712 winning percentage) on the road, the Aces own a league-leading 47 road points. That's the third-most in team history behind 51 by the 2005-06 club and 48 by the 04-05 club. The Aces remaining three games are all on the road.
Your ECHL stat of the night: Fort Wayne has surrendered 11 first-period goals in its last two games, Friday's 5-2 loss at Elmira and Wednesday's 8-2 home loss to Reading. The Komets surrendered those 11 goals on 29 shots.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 1 1 3 -- 5
Colorado 1 2 0 -- 3
First Period -- 1, Colorado, Ulanski 16 (Daavettila, Marto), 4:27 (pp); 2, Aces, Mazzolini 36 (Nunn, Lafranchise), 17:36. Penalties -- Clackson, Aces (roughing), 2:57; Bowman, Colorado, double-minor, served by Lange (hooking, roughing), 11:55; Hall, Aces (roughing), 11:55; Gardner, Colorado, double-minor (high-sticking), 18:29.
Second Period -- 3, Aces, Hughes 14 (Nunn, Trupp), 4:24; 4, Colorado, Bowman (Ulanski, Schneekloth), 19:28 (pp); 5, Colorado, Ulanski 17 (Daavettila, Marto), 19:52 (pp). Penalties -- Lange, Colorado (roughing), 5:23; Mazzolini, Aces (hooking), 6:27; Moore, Colorado, major (fighting), 9:40; Hudson, Aces, major (fighting), 9:40; Daavettila, Colorado (hooking), 13:22; Curry, Aces (slashing), 13:38; Hall, Aces (slashing), 15:14; Mazzolini, Aces, double-minor (high-sticking), 15:19; Molle, Aces (interference), 19:03.
Third Period -- 6, Aces, Hughes 15 (Curry, Mazzolini), 5:45 (pp); 7, Aces, Mele 10 (Hall), 10:24; 8, Aces, Lafranchise 5 (Mazzolini), 11:35 (pp). Penalties -- Bowman, Colorado (cross-checking), 3:44; Hood, Colorado (tripping), 4:50; Harrison, Aces (goaltender interference), 9:18; Ostrow, Colorado (slashing), 9:55; Daavettila, Colorado (hooking), 10:46; Daavettila, Colorado (hooking), 10:46; Ostrow, Colorado (roughing), 14:50; Ponich, Aces, double-minor, served by Mele (roughing), 14:50; Forney, Colorado (elbowing), 17:21; Moore, Colorado (slashing), 18:41
Shots on goal -- Aces 12-10-11--33. Colorado 9-15-5--29.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 2 of 11. Colorado 3 of 9.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 22-6-2 (29 shots-26 saves). Colorado, Brown, 21-13-1 (33-28).
A -- 5,289 (5,289). T -- 2:29.
Referee -- Geoff Miller. Linesmen -- Seth Mukai, Butch Mousseaux.
By DOYLE WOODY