Nothing was at stake for the Wranglers in Friday’s regular-season finale at Orleans Arena, but losing to Bakersfield, the worst team in the ECHL, before a crowd of 6,769 on fan appreciation night wasn’t the way they wanted to enter the playoffs.
Thanks to two comebacks in regulation and shootout heroics from leading scorer Andrew Sarauer and goalie Joe Fallon, Las Vegas will enter the postseason with a 5-4 shootout win over the Condors and riding a hot streak, with six wins in their past seven games.
“Wins always matter,” Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. “It’s always good to have the right frame of mind going into the playoffs.”
Fifth-seeded Las Vegas (37-30-5, 79 points) will face the fourth-seeded Stockton Thunder (36-26-9, 81) in the best-of-7 Western Conference quarterfinals, with Games 1 and 2 scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Stockton Arena.
The teams split the season series 4-4, with the Wranglers going 2-1 at home against the Thunder and 2-3 on the road.
“It’ll be a tough series. Four versus five, you can’t get too much tighter than that,” said Sarauer, who scored the lone shootout goal and led Las Vegas in scoring this season with 62 points (21 goals, 41 assists). “We had a good run at the end, and Mouge just said, ‘We’re ready.’ ”
The Condors (22-43-6, 50), the only team in the nine-team conference not to make the playoffs, scored three goals — two shorthanded — in less than two minutes in the second period to go ahead 3-1.
“The guys just beat me,” Fallon said. “The coverage wasn’t good for me today. I usually don’t say that, but we were kind of sleeping a lot during the game.”
The Wranglers answered 32 seconds later on a power-play goal by Scott Pitt to make it 3-2 and tied it on a goal by Judd Blackwater 67 seconds into the third period.
Bakersfield regained the lead 31 seconds later on Greg Burgdoerfer’s second goal.
Sean Wiles tied it for Las Vegas midway through the third, when he scored on a deflection behind his back in the slot off a shot from Sarauer.
Fallon (25-18-5) redeemed himself down the stretch, stopping a penalty shot by Brett Perlini with 1:56 to play in regulation before turning away all five shots he faced in the shootout.
“It was one of those games we just kind of had to get through,” Fallon said. “Our playoff seed was already locked up — there’s no way we’re going to play like that in the playoffs — but to get the win is good going into the playoffs.”
Las Vegas will host Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 at 7:05 p.m. on April 8 through 10. If necessary, Game 6 would take place April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Stockton and Game 7 on April 14 at 4 p.m.
“We’ve been extremely short-handed, and I’m just really proud of this group,” Mougenel said. “It’s been a tough year. It hasn’t gone as planned at times, but the guys have done a great job of coming together and playing the right way.
“I like where we are. Hopefully we’ll get some guys back, get healthy and go from there.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.