In their quest Friday night to solve Colorado Eagles rookie goaltender Dustin Butler, the Alaska Aces tried slappers and snappers, wrist shots and one-timers, shots high, low and in-between.
Finally, what delivered the Aces a 2-1 ECHL victory at Sullivan Arena was an intended pass that, courtesy of puck luck, became a Peter Sivak shot, and game-winning, power-play goal.
Sivak struck with the game tied 1-1 — and mind you, this was after Butler’s 40 saves in Thursday’s 2-0 Eagles win, which marked his first pro shutout — and five minutes left in regulation. Stationed behind the net to Butler’s left, Sivak tried to feed a pass through the slot to defenseman Drew MacKenzie. The puck ricocheted off the skate of Colorado defenseman Arthur Bidwell and past Butler (39 saves) for Sivak’s team-leading 25th strike.
While Aces captain Nick Mazzolini, deadpan, said his Slovakian linemate intentionally played the angles — “I heard him say, ‘Watch this,’ right before he did that — in perfect English,’’ Mazzolini offered — Sivak confessed was not trying a trick.
“I had luck, only luck,’’ Sivak said. “But in sport, a couple guys need sometimes luck. Sometimes, I don’t score with empty net. Sometimes I score from behind net.
Butler, who has been out most of the season with a lower-body injury, called Sivak’s goal “just unfortunate.’’
Still, he’s been excellent in his two starts here.
“I just try to control what I can control and give my team a chance,’’ he said.
Brett Findlay, who beat Butler to the blocker side with a wrist shot from the slot just 82 seconds into the game, said the rookie has proved stingy.
“It’s frustrating for us because we’re used to scoring a lot,’’ Findlay said. “We just have to keep at it, keep getting pucks to the net and get some traffic in front of him.
“He’s here for a reason too. Good job to him.’’
The victory allowed the Aces to remain tied for the overall ECHL lead with the Ontario Reign, 2-1 winners over Las Vegas. Alaska and Ontario have matching 38-17-5 records for .675 winning percentages. Winning percentage this season will determine the Brabham Cup, which goes to the regular season champion and earns it home-ice advantage throughout the Kelly Cup playoffs.
Goaltending also was a plot line for the Aces on Friday — newcomer Connor Knapp made his team debut with 30 saves.
Knapp, assigned to the Aces by the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres earlier in the week, surrendered a Charmin-soft goal to Eagles defenseman Paul Phillips four minutes into the second period for a 1-1 tie. Phillips’ wrister from the hash marks outside the left circle leaked through Knapp.
“There’s no excuses for it,’’ Knapp said. “That’s just a shot I’ve got to have. The guys played great and weren’t fazed, and kept pushing, and that helps a goalie out.’’
Knapp (30 saves) didn’t get rattled by giving up a bad goal, though.
With the Aces killing a penalty in the third period and the game still tied 1-1, he was down in his crease, tangled with an Eagle, when he lunged to his right and reached out with his stick to deflect what looked to become a certain goal. The puck glanced off the paddle of his goal stick.
“Sometimes, you just have to throw the kitchen sink at it,’’ Knapp said.
The game still was tied midway though the third period when Knapp went to his left behind the net to play a puck nearing the trapezoid, where masked men can legally touch it. But the puck did not have enough momentum to allow Knapp to play it, so he stopped and retreated to his net — and promptly cramped.
Knapp said his left leg cramped the worst, but his hands and even his jaw cramped earlier in the game. He figured a Wednesday spent traveling, and interrupted by a delayed flight and a missed connection in transit from Florida — he previously played for the ECHL Everblades — was the culprit.
Aces trainer Tyson Salley massaged Knapp’s leg on the ice during a lengthy delay and the goalie remained in the game.
“He was solid, other than that goal,’’ said Aces coach Rob Murray. “He made some desperation saves, especially that one on the penalty kill. To me, not knowing the kid yet, he’s got a real competitive edge.’’
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Colorado 0 1 0 — 1
Aces 1 0 1 — 2
First Period — 1, Aces, Findlay 16 (Syvret, Morrison), 1:22. Penalties — Beatty, Colorado (interference), 2:35; Coffman, Aces (high-sticking), 4:50; Hudson, Colorado (elbowing), 13:30.
Second Period — 2, Colorado, Phillips 2 (Nelson), 3:44. Penalties — Mele, Aces (elbowing), 4:32; Young, Colorado (cross-checking), 8:30; Hudson, Colorado (goaltender interference), 11:47; Mazzolini, Aces (interference), 15:53.
Third Period — 3, Aces, Sivak 25 (Mosienko, Mazzolini), 14:54 (pp). Penalties – Mele, Aces (holding the stick), 3:38; Phillips, Colorado (hooking), 13:00.
Shots on goal — Colorado 8-10-13—31. Aces 14-16-11—41.
Power-play Opportunities – Colorado 0 of 4. Aces 1 of 5.
Goalies — Colorado, Butler, 4-2-0 (41 shots-39 saves). Aces, Knapp, 10-12-5 (31-30).
A — 5,356 (6,399). T — 2:27.
Referee — J.M. McNulty. Linesmen — Travis Jackson, Josh Ellis.
By DOYLE WOODY