The ECHL-leading Alaska Aces earned their second straight win over the visiting Bakersfield Condors with a 4-2 victory Saturday night, when they didn’t score an even-strength goal for the second straight evening.
Guess special teams really do matter.
The Aces racked three power-play goals on their first three opportunities and used Peter Sivak’s short-handed strike in the final minute to secure the win before an announced crowd of 4,252 at Sullivan Arena.
And all that ammunition helped them win the Battle of the Back-ups. Goaltender Alex Kangas stopped 22 shots to win his second straight start. Bakersfield’s Chet Pickard made 23 saves.
Count on Alaska’s Gerald Coleman and Bakersfield’s Laurent Brossoit to be back between the pipes for Sunday afternoon’s series finale.
Friday, the Aces won 3-0 on two power-play goals and another Sivak shortie, plus Coleman’s flawless performance.
Saturday, Brendan Connolly scored twice on the power play to reach the 20-goal mark for the fourth consecutive season and become the third Aces to hit that mark. Sivak leads the Aces (37-16-4) with 24 goals and captain Nick Mazzolini has scored 21.
Also, Aces veteran defenseman Sean Curry furnished a Gordie Howe hat trick — goal, assist, fight.
Kangas is used sparingly, when Coleman needs a break. Saturday, he surrendered a five-hole goal to Greg Miller just 81 seconds into the match, but soon fended off a pair of odd-man rushes.
“I should have had the first one,’’ Kangas said. “Mentally, I had to settle down and not let it bother me. They had a couple 2-on-1s, and I got back into it and felt good after that.’’
Even so, Alaska’s lead in a physical hockey game that carried some bitterness and seemed to get away from referee Chris Pitoscia was just 3-2 in the waning minutes, when Chris Collins received a major penalty for boarding Connolly. But Sivak took a pass from Mazzolini, blew in from the right wing and whistled a dart over Pickard’s glove for a 4-2 cushion with 29 seconds left.
Connolly, who played wearing a traditional half-shield for the first time since suffering a facial fracture and dental damage from a stick to the face on Dec. 21 — he since had worn a full shield — said getting a win for Kangas felt good. The former University of Minnesota goaltender has endured hip injuries and slowly worked his way back to playing hockey again.
“When he’s in there, we know how hard he’s worked and the journey he’s been on this season, so I think we play ever harder because we want him to have success,’’ Connolly said.
The Condors (27-24-5), who have rebounded wonderfully from a miserable start to the season, have been the Aces’ match at even-strength.
“They’re a tough team 5-on-5, with great goaltending,’’ Connolly said. “They’re physical, generate chances, but they were undisciplined and our power play is good from home.’’
Aces coach Rob Murray said his club’s improved power play of late likely stems from having some practice time to actually work on details.
“We’re doing a better job of getting the puck to the net, especially from the top,’’ he said, referring to defensemen playing the point. “Tonight, two of our power-play goals were on rebounds and that helps.’’
After Miller’s early goal, Curry scored on a long power-play wrister inside the opening five minutes for a 1-1 tie. Connolly’s power-play goal midway through the second period came off a Sivak rebound for a 2-1 lead.
Bakersfield regained a tie at 2-2 on Michael Neal’s power-play rebound early in the third period, but Connolly soon back-handed home another power-play strike after defenseman Brad Richard’s shot hit traffic.
Shuffling the deck
The Aces may have lost a couple of players to injury.
Defenseman Zach McKelvie took a hard hit in the second period and was clearly dazed. He did not return in the third period. Bakersfield’s Collins’ hit on new winger Alex Belzile late in the game appeared to stun Belzile. Murray said afterward he did not yet know either player’s status.
Sivak’s goal and assist moved him within one point of the league scoring lead. He owns 24-45—69 totals in 53 games. Fort Wayne’s Brandon Marino leads the circuit with 21-49—70 totals in 56 games.
Sivak leads the league with a plus-39 rating and Mazzolini is third at plus-29.
Mazzolini’s assist pushed his point streak to six games. He owns 3-6—9 totals in that span.
Richard (two assists) sits second in scoring among rookie defensemen with 5-24—29 totals in 50 games. Richard owns a five-game point streak with 2-5—7 totals.
Winger Ross Ring-Jarvi returned to the lineup after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury.
The Aces improved their league-best home-ice record to 24-7-1.
Bakersfield 1 0 1 — 2
Aces 1 1 2 — 4
First Period — 1, Bakersfield, Miller 18 (Schaber, Watson), 1:21; 2, Aces, Curry 2 (Sisca, MacKenzie), 4:45 (pp). Penalties — Watson, Bakersfield (hooking), 4:11.
Second Period — 3, Aces, Connolly 19 (Sivak, Curry), 8:24 (pp). Penalties — Steffes, Bakersfield (high-sticking), 7:18; Curry, Aces, major (fighting), 16:40; Carroll, Bakersfield, major (fighting), 16:40.
Third Period — 4, Bakersfield, Neal 15 (Schraber, Bowman), 5:42 (pp); 5, Aces, Connolly 20 (Richard, Syvret), 9:39 (pp); 6, Aces, Sivak 24 (Mazzolini, Richard), 19:31 (sh). Penalties — Mazzolini, Aces (boarding), 4:34; Collins, Bakersfield (tripping), 7:54; Collins, Bakersfield, major (boarding), 13:02; Mosienko, Aces (trpping), 15:26; Ring-Jarvi, Aces (roughing), 17:20; Miller, Bakersfield, double-minor (boarding, unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:20; Schraber, Bakersfield (roughing), 17:20; Connolly, Aces (slashing), 18:21; Brossoit, Bakersfield, game misconduct (abuse of officials), 20:00.
Shots on goal — Bakersfield 9-6-9—24. Aces 10-11-6—27.
Power-play Opportunities — Bakersfield 1 of 2. Aces 3 of 6.
Goalies — Bakersfield, Pickard, 4-7-0 (27 shots-23 saves). Aces, Kangas, 2-2-2 (24-22).
A — 4,252 (6,399). T — 2:29.
Referee — Chris Pitoscia. Linesmen – Travis Jackson, Josh Ellis.
By DOYLE WOODY