Facing the goal during a second-period scrum, Wranglers defenseman Dan Spang went down hard after getting punched in the jaw from behind by Stockton left wing Garet Hunt, who was penalized for roughing.
"That was a clown move on Hunt's part," Las Vegas forward Adam Miller said.
But the tactic served only to inspire Spang, who scored a power-play goal 26 seconds later to give the Wranglers a 3-1 lead en route to a 4-2 victory over the Thunder on Monday in front of a playoff-high crowd of 5,389 at the Orleans Arena.
The win gave Las Vegas a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 Pacific Division finals and two chances to close out the series at home -- either tonight in Game 6 or Wednesday in Game 7.
"Our confidence is high, but we know we still have three periods we have to win in a row," said Miller, who scored a short-handed goal midway through the second period to give Las Vegas a 2-0 lead. "The series isn't over, but we're happy right now with our spot."
Miller was nearby when Hunt knocked down Spang from behind and dropped to the ice with him.
"He just suckered him, then he went down like a coward," Miller said. "We're not going to worry about that little twerp. He's just a little rat out there who tries to stir up stuff. Hopefully we get the big 'W' and shake that rat's hand (today)."
The mild-mannered Spang pumped his arm and showed a little more emotion than usual after scoring on Las Vegas' league-leading power play.
"He's got a pretty calm demeanor, but he got a little fired up. You could see it in his play," Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan said. "He started to take control a little bit, and that was good to see from Spang."
Stockton center Damian Surma netted two goals in the second period -- when the teams combined for five -- to cut the Thunder's deficit to 2-1 and 3-2, respectively.
And Stockton kept the pressure on in the third period, outshooting Las Vegas 15-10. But Wranglers goalie Glenn Fisher and his teammates were up to the task, holding off the Thunder.
Rookie forward Scott McCulloch scored an empty-net goal with 31 seconds left to play for the final margin.
Fisher, who hadn't played since the Wranglers' 4-2 home win in Game 2, stopped 36 of 38 shots -- including a huge one in traffic in the third period -- to improve to 5-1 in the playoffs.
After a scoreless first period in which Las Vegas forward J.D. Watt drew a penalty for obliterating Surma with an open-ice check at the blue line, Watt rifled home a shot from the left circle to give the Wranglers a 1-0 lead.
Miller made it 2-0 about three minutes later when he drove to the net and scored on a backdoor play set up by Kelly Czuy, who zipped a perfect cross-ice pass from the boards to the post.
Miller is hoping to see another big crowd at the Orleans Arena tonight.
"It's really nice having the sixth man on our side," he said. "If the crowd gives us a good push, hopefully we can win."
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.