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Aces win 3-2 at Las Vegas to rack up ECHL Kelly Cup opening-round sweep

Doyle Woody

For most of their opening-round ECHL Kelly Cup playoff series, the Alaska Aces lowered the boom on the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Friday night, they employed the broom.

Peter Sivak scored two goals, including the game-winning, power-play strike in the final minute of the second period, to spearhead a 3-2 road victory that earned the Aces a sweep of the best-of-7, Western Conference quarterfinal series.

The Aces, two-time winners of the Kelly Cup (2011, 2006) and owners of the highest playoff winning percentage in league history (.656), won their opening series for the 10th time in 11 seasons on the minor-league hockey circuit.

Alaska's sweep was its ninth in 27 all-time ECHL playoff series and its seventh sweep in the 22 best-of-7 series it has played.

The Aces next play the winner of the series between the Idaho Steelheads and Colorado Eagles -- Idaho leads 3-2 entering Monday's Game 6 in Boise -- and Games 1 and 2 of those conference semifinals are set for Thursday and Friday nights at Sullivan Arena. Alaska owns home-ice advantage throughout the postseason, courtesy of its fourth consecutive Brabham Cup as regular-season champions of the 21-team league.

Sivak, the veteran right wing, and his linemates, veteran center and team captain Nick Mazzolini, and veteran left wing Brendan Connolly, dominated the series.

Sivak, who opened and closed the scoring Friday at Orleans Arena, delivered 5-3--8 totals in four games to match Las Vegas' total goal production as the Aces outscored the Wranglers 16-5 in four games. Mazzolini, with an assist on Sivak's game winner, dropped 2-8--10 totals on the Wranglers. And Connolly, with a helper on Sivak's opening strike, furnished five assists in the series. All three members of that line provided at least one point in each game.

Alaska's defense strengthened its scoring punch too. Zach McKelvie scored a goal Friday, John Ramage produced two assists and Drew MacKenzie had a helper. In all, Alaska's blueliners outscored all the Wranglers, 6-5, in the series.

Olivier Roy stopped 21 shots to backstop the Aces, who outshot Las Vegas 38-23 Friday and 153-80 in the series.

"I thought we were pretty consistent,'' Aces coach Rob Murray said by cellphone. "We really played strong defensively, and I really like our special teams right now -- our power play is clicking and the penalty-kill is strong. A lot of good things are going on right now.''

The Aces were so dominant in the series that they led for 191:17 of the 240 minutes played and trailed for just 3:39. The season series between the teams reflected the Aces' status atop the league and the Wranglers' station at the bottom -- Alaska in the regular season and playoffs went 15-2-0 against Las Vegas.

Still, the Wranglers in the face of elimination generated more push-back Friday -- Murray called it their best effort and performance in the four games -- than they had at any point in the series.

After Sivak and McKelvie furnished a 2-0 first period lead -- the Aces led after one period in all four games, three times by two goals -- the Wranglers received second-periods goals just 2:04 apart from former UAF forward Carlo Finucci and Chris Francis to forge a 2-2 tie.

But with Las Vegas defenseman Eddie Del Grosso off for slashing in the final minute of the second period, Sivak scored on the power play to restore Alaska's lead at 3-2.

Alaska converted on 5 of 14 power-play opportunities in the series and limited Las Vegas to one man-advantage goal in 13 chances. The Aces killed two Wranglers power plays in the third period Friday, and McKelvie sticked the puck away from danger with a lunging effort during Las Vegas' final power play.

"Other than that,'' Murray said, "they really didn't get any good looks.''

Just prior to that final Las Vegas power play, Roy's flashing glove save on Geoff Irwin at even strength preserved the lead.

Friday's match marked not just the Wranglers' final game of the season, but their last Las game at Orleans Arena, which did not extend its lease with the Wranglers. Las Vegas next season intends to play on a specially-built rink atop a hotel in Sin City.

The Aces, meanwhile, are headed home Saturday, with more games ahead.

Shuffling the deck

Murray said winger Turner Elson suffered a lower-body injury about midway through the game and did not play after. He said he doesn't believe the injury is serious.

The Aces unloaded so many shots on Las Vegas goalie Travis Fullerton in the series that their five most prolific shooters -- Ramage (18 shots), Sivak (17), Mazzolini (16), Jordan Morrison (11) and Elson (11) -- combined for 73 shots to Las Vegas' total of 80.

Also in the Western Conference on Friday:

Idaho 2, Colorado 1 -- Steelheads goalie Josh Robinson stopped 27 shots to backstop a 2-1 win at Colorado that earned Idaho a 3-2 series lead.

Bakersfield 5, Utah 0 -- Bakersfield rookie Laurent Brossoit, the former Ace, stopped 33 shots for his second shutout of the postseason, and Jordan Knackstedt furnished two goals and an assist to eliminate the Grizzlies in five games. The Condors face rival Stockton, which swept No. 2 seed Ontario, in the conference semis.

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

Aces2 1 0 -- 3

Las Vegas0 2 0 -- 2

First Period -- 1, Aces, Sivak 4 (Ramage, Connolly), 8:14; 2, Aces, McKelvie 1 (MacKenzie, Findlay), 12:49. Penalties -- Ramage, Aces (roughing), 3:27; Rempel, Las Vegas (high-sticking), 9:53.

Second Period -- 3, Las Vegas, Finucci 1 (Del Grosso, Rempel), 13:59; 4, Las Vegas, Francis 1 (Armstrong, Cook), 16:03; 5, Aces, Sivak 5 (Mazzolini, Ramage), 19:36 (pp). Penalties -- Mazzolini, Aces (boarding), 6:02; Hughesman, Las Vegas (roughing), 6:02; Connolly, Aces (roughing), 6:02; Huxley, Las Vegas (roughing), 8:10; Martin, Aces (roughing), 8:10; Del Grosso, Las Vegas (slashing), 18:58.

Third Period -- None. Penalties -- Martin, Aces (high-sticking), 2:29; Martin, Aces (slashing), 16:45.

Shots on goal -- Aces 15-13-10--38. Las Vegas 5-9-9--23.

Power-play Opportunities -- Aces 1 of 3. Las Vegas 0 of 4.

Goalies -- Aces, Roy, 2-0 (23 shots-21 saves). Las Vegas, Fullerton, 0-4 (38-35).

A -- 2,543 (7,773). T -- 2:27.

Referee -- J.M. McNulty. Linesmen -- Todd Owen, Wally Lacroix.

 


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com