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Road-savvy Aces remain confident heading into playoff games in San Francisco

Doyle Woody

If the past really is prelude, the Alaska Aces should feel good about hitting the road for the next three games of their ECHL playoff series with the San Francisco Bulls.

With the best-of-7 series knotted 1-1 -- Alaska won last Friday's opener 5-1 and San Francisco rebounded to seize a 1-0 win in Game 2 -- the series resumes Thursday night in California, with Game 4 set for Friday and Game 5 for Saturday.

The Aces made just one visit to the Cow Palace in San Francisco during the regular season and swept that three-game series in early March, an achievement that helped them generate the best road record on the 23-team minor league hockey circuit.

Alaska went 23-7-6 on the road in the regular season to compile 52 points, five more than the Ontario Reign. And in the second half of the regular season, the Aces lost just two of 18 road games in regulation, going 11-2-5 -- that stretch included two overtime losses and three shootout losses.

All that success in hostile rinks is one reason the Aces said they remain confident after Bulls goaltender Thomas Heemskerk fed them a 32-save bagel in Game 2 last Saturday at Sullivan Arena.

"It's a battle, a seven-game series,'' said Aces winger Alexandre Imbeault. "We're not concerned to play on the road.''

Still, if the Aces want to battle from the high ground, as it were, they would be well served to get more traffic in front of Heemskerk and be around his crease for potential rebounds. Heemskerk proved sharp in Game 2 -- rebounds were rare -- and the Aces didn't do much to congest his crease.

"We didn't put enough pucks to the net,'' lamented Aces coach Rob Murray.

Alaska's best opportunities in Game 2 came in the first and second periods, when they unloaded 27 of their 32 shots. All that gained them was, well, nothing -- the game remained scoreless until San Francisco received a goal from former Aces winger Kory Falite five minutes into the third period.

"We didn't bury our chances,'' said Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman, who has permitted just two goals in the series. "When you let a team hang around, (losing) is what happens. But you need four wins, not just one.''

The Aces on Thursday no doubt want to get back on track with their power play. After converting twice on seven power-play chances in Game 1, most of their seven power plays in Game 2 were not threatening. Alaska struggled to gain the San Francisco zone on two third-period power plays and didn't manage a shot on goal on either occasion.

"We didn't play a bad game,'' Imbeault said. "But we didn't play our best game execution-wise. They came out much more aggressive. They made their adjustments, now we have to adjust.''

Still, one thing the Aces won't tweak much is their penalty killing. San Francisco has failed to score on all 10 of its power plays in the series, a shortcoming that carried over from the regular-season series against the Aces, who led the ECHL in penalty-killing efficiency (87.4 percent).

In 11 combined regular-season and playoff games against San Francisco, Alaska has surrendered just two power-play goals on 48 opportunities for penalty-killing efficiency of 95.8 percent.

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com