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After pregame musical chairs, Aces find right combination of D-men

Doyle Woody

CINCINNATI -- Before the Alaska Aces' morning skate Saturday in preparation for Game 5 of the ECHL's Kelly Cup Finals that evening, coach Rob Murray decided to remove defenseman Kane Lafranchise from the lineup because of a lower-body injury.

Murray planned to substitute Drew MacKenzie, who hadn't played in a month, missing 11 games with an upper-body injury.

Word came from the ECHL later, though, that defenseman John Ramage was suspended from Game 5 for an elbow he delivered to the head of Cincinnati Cyclones sniper Josh Shalla in the second period of Cincinnati's win Friday in Game 4. Ramage was not penalized at the time, but suspended upon league review. Shalla, whose 11 goals lead the playoffs, did not dress for Game 5.

So, Murray needed another defenseman. Lafranchise, who said he wasn't happy when he found out he was scratched, told Murray he was healthy enough to play.

It all worked out. All of Alaska's defensemen played well Saturday in a 4-2 victory that furnished them a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-7 clash for the Cup, and all did something of note in the defensive zone, particularly while killing Cincinnati's seven power plays.

Brad Richard scored the game-winning goal. Sean Curry delivered the game-tying goal and some big hits. Corey Syvret had an assist and went plus-1. Lafranchise was plus-1, even as he moved from his usual station on the left side and over to the right, where the left-hander played extensively this season for Abbotsford of the American Hockey League. Zach McKelvie was hard on opponents. And MacKenzie was plus-1.

MacKenzie said being paired with Lafranchise aided his return.

"My adrenaline was definitely the highest it's been in a little while, little nervous, but playing with Lafranchise, a veteran guy, helped,'' MacKenzie said.

Assistant coach Louis Mass, who runs the defense, said MacKenzie was excellent.

"He's probably more poised under pressure than anyone, head up all the time, very consistent,'' Mass said. "He isn't flashy, so a lot of hockey fans might not notice him.''

MacKenzie also provided a light moment just minutes into the game. He joined the rush but had his stick snapped in two by a slash, which usually merits a penalty. None was called.

As MacKenzie circled out of the right corner in Cincinnati's zone, he raised the shaft of his stick, which remained in his left hand, as if to say, "Um, everyone saw that slash, right?''

Getting no satisfaction from referees Ryan Murphy or Nic Leduc, MacKenzie threw the shaft to the ice and on his way back to the bench barked at Leduc.

Magic by masked men

Alaska goaltender Gerald Coleman and Cincinnati's Rob Madore continued to astonish in Game 5.

Coleman's work in the first period helped the Aces kill four Cyclones power plays in that span, and spearheaded their perfect penalty-killing mark against seven Cincinnati power plays in the game. The veteran doesn't rattle easily.

"Colesy, obviously, was standing on his head -- your goaltender has to be your best PK guy,'' said rookie winger Turner Elson, who kills penalties. "He really brought us together.''

Among Coleman's finest saves among his 28 were a left-pad stop on Wade Megan's first-period breakaway, a crucial right-pad save on Chris Reed later in the period and yet another pad save on Megan before the first intermission.

Madore, meanwhile, stopped Evan Trupp on a second-period breakaway to continue his reign in 1-on-1 situations in the Finals. He made 37 saves, and stopped 20 of 21 shots in the second period, when the Aces unloaded what matched the fourth-most shots in a period in Finals history.

"Madore has been what you need from a goaltender,'' Coleman said. "My buddy (Cincinnati center Dan Eves) says he's the reason they've got this far.

"He battles. That's all he's been doing -- battling, battling, battling.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog and follow his live tweets during every Kelly Cup Finals game @sportsadn.


By DOYLE WOODY
dwoody@adn.com