By making quick work of their first two ECHL Kelly Cup playoff opponents, the Alaska Aces not only generated the results they sought but afforded themselves ample rest at the most demanding time of the hockey season.
After dispatching the Idaho Steelheads in five games -- Thursday's 2-1 win eliminated Idaho from the Western Conference semifinals -- the Aces gained an eight-day respite before opening the conference finals Friday night at home against the Bakersfield Condors.
That break follows the six-day break the Aces earned after they swept the Las Vegas Wranglers in the conference quarterfinals.
Time off to rest and heal is coveted after a six-month regular season, and also because playoff games generally feature a more physical brand of play. At this time of the season, players almost without exception acquire aches and aggravations, or worse.
"It's not so much the major injuries (time off helps), it's the bumps and bruises guys will get over,'' said Aces coach Rob Murray.
The Aces returned to practice Monday morning after traveling home from Boise on Friday and taking the weekend off. Though Monday's short session was optional, nearly all the players participated. All-ECHL winger Peter Sivak, who has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, sat out. Ditto for winger/defenseman Zach McKelvie (elbow), who skated lightly on his own before the practice, and center Jordan Morrison, who said he reported to the rink to hydrate from a mild flu.
McKelvie remains questionable for the series opener -- "I've got to bang to be effective,'' he said.
Murray said Sivak could possibly return as soon as Game 3 on Friday, May 23, in Bakersfield. That would be exactly three weeks since he was injured in Game 2 of the Idaho series.
The Condors likewise have enjoyed generous rest. Come Friday's series opener, they will have had six days between games after eliminated the Stockton Thunder in five games. After Bakersfield eliminated Utah in five games in the first round, it had seven days idle before opening the Stockton series.
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ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs
Western Conference Finals
Best of 7
Bakersfield Condors vs. Alaska Aces
All Times ADT
Game 1 - Friday, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
Game 2 - Saturday, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
Game 3 - Friday, May 23, at Bakersfield, 6 p.m.
Game 4 - Saturday, May 24, at Bakersfield, 6 p.m.
Game 5 - Sunday, May 25, at Bakersfield, TBA*
Game 6 - Tuesday, May 27, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.*
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 28, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.*
By DOYLE WOODY