Brad Richard was nervous heading into his postseason debut for the Alaska Aces.
After all, it was Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Finals.
Richard, who suffered an injury prior to Game 2 in the opening round of the playoffs against Las Vegas, hadn't skated one shift the entire postseason. But his seven-week hiatus didn't show Monday at Sullivan Arena against the Cincinnati Cyclones.
Paired with fourth-year pro Corey Syvret, Richard skated a regular shift and played in all situations -- power plays, penalty kills and 4 on 4. He also assisted on Tyler Mosienko's goal with under two minutes to play to seal a 2-0 win for the Aces, who are up 2-1 in the best-of-7 series that now shifts to Cincinnati.
"He was outstanding tonight," said Aces assistant coach Louis Mass, who runs the team's defense.
Richard, an ECHL All-Rookie Team selection who finished the regular season with 6-24--30 totals and a plus-20 rating in 62 games, gives Alaska an offensive threat from the blue line, Mass said.
"He brings a dimension that I felt we needed in the lineup tonight," he said.
That was evident from Richard's two prime scoring chances. His best opportunity came in the second period when he hammered a one-timer from the high slot that Cincinnati goalie Rob Madore managed to fight off with his left shoulder. Later, Richard rang one off Madore's mask.
The same attributes that enable Richard to create offense also make him a solid defender, Mass said.
"He's very quick and very strong," he said.
Richard is rarely caught out of position, Syvret said, which is essential for the 5-foot-10 defenseman.
"An undersized guy has to play well positionally," Syvret said, "and he does that."
Richard showcased that talent in the first period when he stayed between a pursuing Barry Almeida and the goal, stopping the puck with his skate as Almeida attempted to deke between Richard's feet.
Watching the Aces make their way to their fourth Kelly Cup Final appearance in nine seasons, rather than helping them get there, wasn't easy, Richard said.
"You want to play, obviously," he said. "You do everything you can to play."
Richard said he healed fast and was available Monday when Zach Davies sat out as a healthy scratch. Richard, who hadn't skated at game speed since the April 11 regular-season finale, said his nervousness faded fast.
"After the first shift, I got in a groove," he said.
His partner didn't notice any lapses.
"He carried at least 50 percent of the load," Syvret said. "For him to be out that long and not have any hiccups is a testament to him and the hard work he put in."
"He definitely didn't disappoint," he said.
Shuffling the deck
In the Alaska Aces' victory that eliminated the Idaho Steelheads from the second round of the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoffs, Aces defenseman/forward Zach McKelvie injured his left elbow badly enough to warrant a trip to a Boise hospital.
The Aces had eight days before their next game, and McKelvie did not miss a match.
But he appeared to injure the elbow again in Monday's 2-0 Finals win over the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 3 while killing a penalty in the third period. McKelvie was injured in a collision in the corner, lost his stick, propped his left arm against his hunched body and continued killing the penalty until the Aces cleared the puck from their zone and he could get to the bench for a line change.
He did not miss a shift, though.
"This time of year everyone has bumps and bruises, and one of the bumps got bumped a bit, and it hurt,'' he explained.
Still, McKelvie, who is ex-U.S. Army infantry, said here was nothing heroic about returning to the game.
"It's no major thing,'' he said. "Anyone else would play through it too.''
Cincinnati coach Ben Simon was suitably impressed by the fine work of his goaltender, Rob Madore (32 saves), but said the Cyclones needed to furnish him offensive support.
"He stepped up, big,'' Simon said. "Unfortunately, you don't win too many hockey games when you don't score. We've got to find ways to generate offense, and we will.''
Aces captain Nick Mazzolini, the league's leading playoff scorer with 10-18--28 totals in 18 games, was held without a point for the second straight game for the first time in the playoffs.
Connolly assisted on both Aces goals to give him 3-12--15 totals in 16 games.
The Aces improved to 7-3 in home playoff games this spring. Two of their losses came in overtime. The Cyclones are the only team to beat the Aces at Sullivan Arena -- 2-1 in Game 2 last Saturday.
Cincinnati fell to 8-5 on the road in the playoffs.
Gerald Coleman's 30-save shutout for the Aces was their second of the playoffs. Olivier Roy, currently out with a lower-body injury, stopped 11 shots to shut out the Bakersfield Condors in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.
Monday marked the second time the Cyclones have been bageled in the playoffs. They fell 2-0 to the Orlando Solar Bears in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Reach Mike Nesper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335. Reporter Doyle Woody contributed to this report.
By MIKE NESPER