The Alaska Aces have been a hockey team doubling as a demolition crew in their playoff series with the Las Vegas Wranglers, who they have reduced to rubble in the first three games of the ECHL's Western Conference quarterfinals.
Alaska's 5-1 victory at Orleans Arena on Wednesday night, which earned it a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, continued to make this series even more lopsided than suggested by the teams' seeding -- No. 1 for the Aces, No. 8 for the Wranglers.
The Aces can sweep their first-round project Friday night in Sin City, and to this point the collective wrecking ball they have unleashed on Las Vegas has allowed them to:
• Outscore the Wranglers, 13-3.
• Outshoot them, 115-57.
• Convert on 4 of 11 power-play opportunities and limit Las Vegas to 1 of 9 with the man advantage.
• Score a couple of short-handed goals -- captain Nick Mazzolini and his right wing, Peter Sivak, dropped the anvils Wednesday.
• Lead for 142 minutes, 54 seconds of the 180 minutes played in the series, while the Wranglers have led for all of 3:39.
Sivak and Mazzolini continued to torture the Wranglers in Game 3, as they have all series. Sivak scored off a Mazzolini feed a mere 14 seconds into the game, and Mazzolini scored short-handed off Sivak's helper less than seven minutes later for a 2-0 Alaska lead.
"What we talked about before the game was, 'Don't come out to weather the storm, bring your own storm,' '' Mazzolini said by cellphone.
Coach Rob Murray said he didn't want his club to permit the Wranglers a glimmer of hope.
"Before the game I said, 'We got to put doubt in their minds and not give them any momentum, and that start was as good as it gets,'' Murrays said by cellphone.
Alaska has started well in all three games, leading 3-1 after one period in Game 1, 2-1 after one period in Game 2 and 2-0 through 20 minutes in Game 3.
Former Aces winger Shawn Skelly cut Las Vegas' deficit to 2-1 with a power-play strike six minutes into the second period -- Skelly owns two of his club's three goals in the series -- but Sivak answered short-handed two minutes later.
"Their goal gave them a little momentum, but we were lucky enough to squash that with a shortie,'' Mazzolini said.
Mazzolini, the first-line center who had just six points in 11 playoff games a year ago, owns 2-7--9 totals in this series after bagging a goal and two helpers in Game 3 for this third straight three-point game. He unlimbered a game-high six shots. Sivak owns 3-3--6 totals in the series after his two goals and an assist. Brendan Connolly, the left wing on the first line, has yet to score a goal in the series, but has furnished four assists.
In all, Mazzolini's line has delivered 19 points in three games, compared to seven points for the entire Wranglers roster.
One of Connolly's two helpers Wednesday came on defenseman Drew MacKenzie's power-play goal in the opening minute of the third period to furnish a 4-1 lead. MacKenzie has three goals in the series -- one power-play goal in each game -- to match the three goals he scored in 46 regular-season games.
Brett Findlay added his first goal of the series midway through the third period for a 5-1 lead.
Through two periods Wednesday, the Aces outshot the Wranglers 28-7 -- Skelly owned four of those shots -- and finished with a 38-18 advantage.
All of this was somewhat predictable -- Alaska went 11-2-0 against Las Vegas in the regular season, and that domination helped the Aces win their fourth straight Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 21-team circuit.
Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman stopped 17 shots Wednesday.
At the other end, only Travis Fullerton's 33 saves kept Las Vegas from being thumped worse. Fullerton in the regular season faced more shots than any masked man in the league -- 1,585 -- and he's been bombarded with vulcanized rubber in this series.
For what it's worth, the Aces eight times in their 11 ECHL postseasons have owned a 3-0 lead in a best-of-7 series. They've swept six of those series and won the other two in five games.
Shuffling the deck
Murray said he will start Olivier Roy, the Game 2 winner, in net on Friday. Coleman and Roy both have .947 save percentages in the series.
The coach said ECHL All-Rookie defenseman Brad Richard, who has yet to play in the series, suffered an injury to his left index finger when he was hit by a puck in the morning skate and is out indefinitely.
Winger Tommy Mele moved into the lineup in place of rookie Andy Taranto. Murray said he made the change because he sensed the game could turn more physical, though it ended up being relatively mild.
MacKenzie, who also had an assist, and his partner on the blue line, veteran Sean Curry, both went plus-4. Mazzolini and Sivak were plus-3. Skelly, with five shots, and former UAF forward Carlo Finucci, with five, accounted for more than half the Wranglers' shots.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Aces 2 1 2 -- 5
Las Vegas 0 1 0 -- 1
First Period -- 1, Aces, Sivak 2 (Mazzolini), :14; 2, Aces, Mazzolini 2 (Sivak), 6:52 (sh). Penalties -- Tassone, Las Vegas (interference), 3:07; Martin, Aces (interference), 6:21; Ramage, Aces (holding), 16:32.
Second Period -- 3, Las Vegas, Skelly 2 (Coburn, Irwin), 6:11 (pp); 4, Aces, Sivak 3, 8:07 (sh). Penalties -- Skelly, Las Vegas (delay of game-puck over glass), :20; Mele, Aces (high-sticking), 6:06; Trupp, Aces (tripping), 7:06; Parker, Las Vegas (closing hand on puck), 18:32.
Third Period -- 5, Aces, MacKenzie 3 (Connolly, Mazzolini), :31 (pp); 6, Aces, Findlay 1 (MacKenzie, Morrison), 9:37. Penalties -- Tassone, Las Vegas (hooking), 6:01; Syvret, Aces (hooking), 10:01.
Shots on goal -- Aces 11-17-10--38. Las Vegas 3-4-11--18.
Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 4. Las Vegas 1 of 5.
Goalies -- Aces, Coleman, 2-0 (18 shots-17 saves). Las Vegas, Fullerton, 0-2 (38-33).
A -- 1,983 (7,773). T -- 2:11.
Referee -- Nic Leduc. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Steven Walsh.
By DOYLE WOODY