Aces find strength in numbers

Doyle Woody
Bob Hallinen

In the pivotal Game 2 victory the Alaska Aces engineered Friday in the ECHL Western Conference semifinals against the Idaho Steelheads, they finally received a coveted contribution: Secondary scoring.

Winger Evan Trupp, who had been held without a point in the club's previous five playoff games, furnished two goals in the 6-4 victory that evened the best-of-7 series at 1-1. Granted, Trupp had moved up to captain Nick Mazzolini's top line in the absence of team-leading sniper Peter Sivak, who was scratched with an upper-body injury.

Winger Tommy Mele, who was in the lineup because Sivak wasn't, authored the much-needed insurance goal in a wild third period that featured three goals from each side. The helper on that marker came from center Tyler Mosienko, whose assist was his first point of the postseason.

And winger Alex Belzile delivered his first goal of the postseason on a dazzling 1-on-1 rush -- easy there, Cowbell Crew; yes it was a delicious maneuver, but it came against a forward (Mitch Wahl), not a blueliner trained to defend.

Plus, defenseman-turned-winger Zach McKelvie chipped in his second goal of the playoffs.

In any event, that secondary scoring came after Mazzolini's line -- with winger Sivak and Brendan Connolly -- did most of the heavy lifting in a first-round sweep of the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Against a Steelheads team that presents a far more difficult task than Las Vegas and better matches Alaska's speed and skill -- after all, the Wranglers were the worst team on the 21-club circuit -- scoring from throughout the lineup will likely continue to be necessary for the Aces to succeed.

Connolly (six assists in six playoff games), Mosienko and winger Turner Elson (two assists) are still seeking their first goals of this postseason entering Game 3 Monday night at Idaho.

The Aces have received ample scoring from their power play -- they went 2 for 8 in Game 2 and are 7 of 25 (28.0-percent efficiency) in the postseason. Defenseman Drew MacKenzie's four power-play goals lead the league.

That secondary scoring may become particularly critical against Idaho goaltender Josh Robinson, who the Aces could not solve in Game 1. Robinson, who no doubt will start Game 3, stopped 47 shots in that 1-0 overtime win for the Steelheads.

Odd-man odds

The Aces have lived dangerously -- and survived -- early in this series even though they have permitted the Steelheads an unusually high number of odd-man rushes.

Idaho in Game 1 enjoyed at least six 3-on-2s and one 3-on-1 (the latter in OT, no less) and yet did not generate a shot on goal off any of those advantages. The Steelheads in Game 2 had at least five odd-man rushes, and while those led to shots, they did not score in those situations.

Still, odds of the Steelheads going through another dozen odd-man rushes and coming up empty are long, so the Aces will be looking to clean up some defensive deficiencies.

Dynamic defense

MacKenzie's power-play goal in Game 2 gave him four in the postseason.

Combined with John Ramage's two goals and one from McKelvie when he was playing on the back end, Aces defensemen have contributed seven goals in six playoff games this spring.

Also, Corey Syvret's assist on McKelvie's goal in Game 2 came after the blueliner joined the rush and fired two shots before providing McKelvie with the helper.

Shuffling the deck

Alaska's two-goal victory in Game 2 snapped a string of nine consecutive Idaho-Alaska games this season that were essentially decided by one goal.

Eight of those nine games were true one-goal games and the other was a 4-2 Idaho win that came courtesy of an empty-net goal, making it basically a one-goal game too.

The Aces have outshot the Steelheads 92-47 in the series. Alaska outshot Las Vegas, 153-80, in four games.

Trupp fired 10 shots on goal in Game 2 after he was not credited with a shot in Game 1 and had eight shots in the four games against Las Vegas.

Ramage has 11 shots in the series and Belzile has eight. For Idaho, rookie winger William Rapuzzi of Anchorage leads the way in the series with eight shots. Justin Mercier has seven, and Jason Bast has contributed six.

Alaska Aces at Idaho Steelheads

ECHL Kelly Cup Western Conference semifinals

Best-of-7 series tied 1-1

Game 3: Monday, CenturyLink Arena, Boise, 5:10 p.m. ADT

TV: Live, GCI Channel 1

Radio: AM-750 and FM 103.7 KFQD 

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