At the start of last season’s playoff run to the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals, the Wranglers were missing five players who were in the American Hockey League.
With this year’s playoffs fast approaching, Las Vegas has four players in the AHL and six more out with injuries.
The short-handed Wranglers still found a way to win Sunday, outlasting the Utah Grizzlies 3-2 in a shootout at Orleans Arena.
In the shootout, Chris Francis and Andrew Sarauer scored for Las Vegas to start it and Joe Fallon stopped all four shots he faced to preserve the Wranglers’ fourth win in five games. They have won their last six shootouts.
“We’ve been short all month, but guys have stepped up who don’t usually get a lot of ice time,” Fallon said. “We feel pretty good going into the playoffs the way we’re playing right now.
“Once guys get a little rest, we’ll be firing on all cylinders and scoring more goals, because we’ve played (17) games in (31) days. It’s a ridiculous schedule.”
With two regular-season games remaining — at home Tuesday against Ontario and Friday against Bakersfield — Las Vegas (35-30-5, 75 points) is the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Not that it matters much to coach Ryan Mougenel, who remembers all too well how his third-seeded squad lost to No. 8 Florida in last year’s Finals.
“It means nothing. It doesn’t matter,” Mougenel said of playoff seeding. “Florida was almost a totally different team in the playoffs than the regular season.”
Las Vegas, which already has conceded home-ice advantage in its best-of-7 first-round playoff — agreeing to host Games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, from April 8 to 10 — is more focused on getting healthy.
It finished Sunday’s game with only three regular defensemen: Charlie Cook, Matt Campanale and Marc Cantin. Defensemen Mike Madill, Jamie Fritsch, Channing Boe and Nolan Julseth-White are hurt, and fellow backliner Josh Godfrey is in the AHL with forwards Scott Campbell, Josh Lunden and Sean Wiles.
Defenseman Francis Meilleur left Sunday’s game with five minutes left after getting charged by Riley Armstrong and was replaced by Francis, which is why Mougenel wasn’t too upset when Colin Vock tied it for Utah (27-29-13, 67) with 2:06 left on a drive to the net.
“At times it’s just a bonus to get out of the games unhurt with some of the stuff going on in our league,” he said. “We’re battling lineup issues and I’m real proud of how the guys played hard after three games in three nights with four (defensemen).”
Eric Lampe scored on a two-man advantage at 9:08 of the third to give Las Vegas a 2-1 lead, but the Wranglers continued to struggle on the power play, finishing 1-for-7. Las Vegas has one of the worst power plays in the league, but possesses the league’s third-best penalty kill. The Wranglers killed all four man disadvantages against Utah.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.