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Idaho ousts Wranglers from playoffs

Like a ball spinning around a Las Vegas roulette wheel, a hockey puck can take some strange bounces.

Those bounces didn’t go the Wranglers’ way Tuesday in a season-ending 3-1 loss to Idaho in Game 5 of their ECHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at Orleans Arena.

Rookie center Tristan King scored two goals, including the eventual game winner at 2:52 of the second period, as the Steelheads advanced to face the top-seeded Alaska Aces in the conference semifinals.

Evan Barlow, who recorded two assists and added an empty-net goal from center ice with 1:17 left to seal the victory, set up the winning score when he fired a pass in front from the left circle.

The puck deflected into the net off the leg of Las Vegas center Chris Higgins, who was checking King as he drove hard to the net.

“I picked up (King’s) stick and (Barlow) kind of threw it behind him, and it hit off my leg and went in,” Higgins said. “It’s an unfortunate bounce, but those bounces happen in the playoffs. It’s part of the game.”

King also benefited from a fortuitous bounce at 9:02 of the first period, when he buried a loose puck in the crease to give Idaho a 1-0 lead.

Barlow took a shot on net from the left circle that was tipped and then caromed off Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas’ leg. The puck slid behind Ouzas, and King was there to punch it home for his first professional playoff goal.

“That’s the game of hockey. Sometimes the bounces go your way. Sometimes they don’t,” said Ouzas, who stopped 23 of 25 shots Tuesday and 145 of 153 in the series. “It just came down to those bounces.”

The Steelheads’ early lead was short-lived, though, as Las Vegas tied it 1-1 68 seconds later on a goal by Blair Riley. The rookie left wing skated in from the blue line and snapped the puck past Idaho goalie Jerry Kuhn from the high slot.

Kuhn turned away 22 of 23 shots after the rookie surrendered five goals Saturday in the Steelheads’ 5-1 loss to the Wranglers in Game 4 in Boise, Idaho.

“We didn’t do a very good job of getting to the net again,” said Riley, who scored a goal in each of the last four playoff games. “That was kind of our Achilles’ heel in all three of the losses we had in the series.”

Las Vegas outshot Idaho 10-7 in the third period but couldn’t find the back of the net.

“We battled hard in the third,” Higgins said. “But we didn’t get enough shots and screens on (Kuhn) and really didn’t test him as much as we should have and wanted to.”

The Wranglers went 0-for-3 on the power play, including its final one spanning the second and third periods, and finished the series 2-for-18 with a man advantage.

“(Kuhn) played good again, but we didn’t get anything going on the power play,” Riley said. “It’s really disappointing. You put in all your effort, and it doesn’t always go your way.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.

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