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Fluke goal helps Wranglers stay alive

Facing elimination, the Wranglers desperately needed something to turn around their ECHL playoff series against Idaho. They got it Friday at the Orleans Arena in the form of a goal for the ages.

With Las Vegas clinging to a 2-0 lead midway through Game 5 of the National Conference semifinals, the Steelheads shot the puck into their own net on a delayed penalty.

The goal helped the Wranglers cruise to a 4-0 victory, trimming their series deficit to 3-2 and sending the best-of-7 battle to Game 6, set for 6:10 p.m. Sunday at Qwest Arena in Boise, Idaho.

“We got a bounce tonight,” Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan said.

Did they ever. Seconds after Las Vegas defenseman Jason Jozsa was called for hooking midway through the second period, the Steelheads pulled goalie Steve Silverthorn for an extra attacker.

Idaho’s Scott Burt sent a pass from the right corner back toward the blue line, intended for teammate Colin Peters. Instead the puck deflected off the skate of the Wranglers’ Marco Peluso and slid down the ice into Idaho’s empty net as the crowd of 3,727 erupted.

Officials conferred for a few minutes before ruling the rare play a goal for the Wranglers.

“We knew it was a goal. We knew we never had control,” Gulutzan said. “In order to stop play, you have to have control.”

The play seemed to deflate the Steelheads.

“That takes a lot of life out of them,” Peluso said. “We were up 2-0 and trying not to let them score, because 2-1 is a tight game. But 3-0 really kind of shuts them down.”

Las Vegas killed all 12 of Idaho’s power plays, setting the tone early by killing a 5-on-3 by Idaho for 1:38 and a four-minute power play that began in the first minute of the game. The Wranglers also killed a two-minute two-man advantage for the Steelheads in the second period.

“I’ve never seen that in my life in a playoff game, giving two 5-on-3 advantages,” said Steve Crampton, who had a goal and assist. “But we stepped up and killed them all.”

Crampton gave the Wranglers a 1-0 lead 7:51 into the game on a goal set up by Mike McBain, who fired a pinpoint pass from the point. Shawn Limpright made it 2-0 on a power play a few minutes later with a shot from the right circle over the left shoulder of Silverthorn, who had 19 saves.

Adam Cracknell capped the scoring in the third period with a blast from the left point on the power play.

“It’s a game of bounces,” Idaho coach Derek Laxdal said. “They got the bounces.”

Wranglers goalie Kevin Nastiuk was outstanding, stopping all 36 shots en route to his third career ECHL shutout and first in the playoffs.

“He was unbelievable,” Crampton said. “He was our savior tonight.”

Las Vegas, which snapped a three-game losing streak on the heels of its league-record 18-game winning streak, is trying to erase a 3-1 deficit against the Steelheads for the second straight year.

The Wranglers became the second team in ECHL history to do so last season, when they won the fifth game on the road and the final two at home. But they’ll have to win Game 6 in Idaho this time to force Game 7, which would be at 7:05 p.m. Monday at the Orleans Arena.

“We’re approaching this as Game 7 Sunday night in Idaho,” Gulutzan said. “In our minds, we have just as good a chance of winning Game 7 in Idaho as they do.”

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