Everything was going against the Wranglers on Wednesday.
Facing elimination in Game 5 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals - with leading scorer Eric Lampe out with an injury - Las Vegas trailed by two goals in the second period before a standing-room-only crowd of 7,290 at Germain Arena, where the Florida Everblades were unbeaten in the postseason.
Showing the grit that got them to the league finals, the Wranglers rallied to send the game into overtime.
But their comeback bid fell short when Brandon MacLean beat Joe Fallon at 4:54 of the extra session, giving Florida a dramatic 3-2 victory and the franchise's first ECHL championship.
"It's not what I envisioned, having a speech ready for the guys after we lost," Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We had a lot of opportunities to score. We really dictated the play. It was a tough bounce."
Moments after Leigh Salters was stopped by Fallon (26 saves) on a breakaway in overtime, MacLean took a pass from Matt Beca on a two-on-one rush and fired the puck into the top of the net from the left circle.
The Wranglers outshot the Everblades 43-29, but goalie John Muse came up big again en route to being named Most Valuable Player of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
He made 41 saves, including one on a breakaway by Adam Miller late in regulation, and stopped 140 of 150 shots in the series.
"My best players weren't my best players at times," Mougenel said.
Florida led 2-0 after the first period. Justin Shugg scored for the third straight game, finishing a three-on-one rush with 7:53 left, and Mike Ratchuk buried a rebound with 1:14 to go.
Las Vegas made it a 2-1 game at 9:26 of the second, when Ash Goldie ripped a wrist shot past Muse from the right circle.
Pete MacArthur tied it 2-2 in the opening minute of the third, taking a pass by Chris Francis from behind the net before beating Muse with a wraparound.
"This team's been like that all year. They're such a resilient bunch," Mougenel said. "I don't know if I can ever duplicate the type of people that we have.
"It was a huge lesson for me as a coach - sacrifice skill for character and I think you'll be all right. I can't say enough about the type of people and players we had this year. They were phenomenal."
Lampe, who led the league in goals during the regular season with a franchise-record 37 and tied Florida's Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll for the playoff points lead with 21 (seven goals, 14 assists), suffered a sternum injury late in Tuesday's Game 4 loss, when Ryan Donald drilled him with an open-ice check.
"We played the majority of the year without all of our top guys. It's something the guys embraced," Mougenel said. "We have amazing leaders in this room. They stepped up.
"I really liked our lineup tonight, our compete level."
After winning the series opener at Orleans Arena, the Wranglers lost four straight games for the first time all season. The Everblades went 15-3 in the postseason and 11-0 at home, where they finished on a 22-1-2 run, including the regular season.
Las Vegas, which lost to Cincinnati in six games in 2008 in its only other Kelly Cup Finals appearance, entered the league finals on a roll, winning three straight at Alaska to clinch the Western Conference crown and improve to 11-2 in the playoffs.
"I'm proud for the organization, and the fan support was truly amazing," Mougenel said. "I looked out in the stands tonight and saw tons of Las Vegas Wranglers jerseys. Guys want to play here, and that's part of it.
"If anything, this will help recruiting."
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354