On paper, the ECHL National Conference finals series between Las Vegas and Utah is a colossal mismatch in the Wranglers’ favor.
Top-seeded Las Vegas dominated the regular-season series, going 10-1-0 against the sixth-seeded Grizzlies and winning the last 10 meetings by a combined score of 39-20 after losing the first one, 8-5.
The Wranglers are 16-5-4 all time against Utah, but 14 of the 25 meetings, including five of the last six, were decided by one goal. Las Vegas expects its first conference finals series to be similarly hard-fought.
"That (regular-season) stuff is out the window now. It’s a totally different season in the playoffs. Games are a little bit tighter, and everybody is going harder," Las Vegas defenseman Jason Jozsa said. "This definitely won’t be the same team we beat 10 out of 11 times. They’re going to come out with a lot of energy and juice and play a physical style. It’s our job to match that and go beyond it.
"We feel good, but we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t say it will be a very hard series."
Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-7 series are at 7:05 p.m. today and Tuesday at the Orleans Arena, with Games 3 and 4 at 6:05 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the E-Center in West Valley City, Utah.
Game 5, if necessary, is at 3 p.m. Sunday at Utah, with Games 6 and 7 scheduled for May 20 and 21 in Las Vegas.
"It’s going to be a battle of wills," Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan said. "They’re an extremely hard-working team that finishes all their checks and we’re going to have to match their intensity and work ethic for 60 minutes.
"We have a decent chance (to win), but it’s going to be tough and it’s going to be long."
Las Vegas beat Stockton in six games in the quarterfinals and Alaska in five games in the semifinals to get here.
Likewise, Utah beat Fresno in six games in the first round and second-seeded Victoria in five games in the semifinals.
Wranglers right wing Peter Ferraro leads the league with 17 playoff points (seven goals, 10 assists), and forwards Adam Cracknell and Tyler Mosienko are tied for third with 14.
Right wing Keith Johnson leads Utah with 13 points (6-7), defenseman James Sanford has 12 (2-10), and Ryan Kinasewich and Tyler Haskins have 10 apiece.
"It’s going to be an intense series," Ferraro said. "Every time we play Utah it tends to be an emotional type of game.
"All we have to do is continue to play the hockey we’ve been playing. I’ve been a big believer in this team since Day One. I like our chemistry, our focus, and our determination and passion to win. Guys expect to win here. I like our chances, I really do."
• NOTES — To benefit the Clark County Food Bank, fans are encouraged to bring a box of macaroni and cheese to use as a noisemaker tonight. The boxes will be donated to the food bank. … The Wranglers extended their lease at Orleans Arena through the 2010-11 season.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.GAME DAY GRIZZLIES VS. WRANGLERS WHAT: Game 1, ECHL National Conference finals WHEN: 7:05 p.m. today WHERE: Orleans Arena TV/RADIO: Internet broadcast at echl.com, lasvegaswranglers.com ECHL NATIONAL CONFERENCE FINALS LAS VEGAS WRANGLERS VS. UTAH GRIZZLIES(BEST-OF-7) • Playoff records: Las Vegas 8-3 (def. Stockton 4-2, def. Alaska 4-1); Utah 8-3 (def. Fresno 4-2, def. Victoria 4-1). • Coaches: Las Vegas, Glen Gulutzan, 22-17 playoffs; Utah, Jason Christie, 24-22 playoffs. • Head-to-head: Las Vegas 10-1-0 this season, 16-5-4 all time; Utah 1-7-3 this season, 9-12-4 all time. • Goalies: Las Vegas, Kevin Lalande (7-3, 2.71 GAA, .901 save percentage), Daniel Manzato (1-0, 3.00 GAA, .906); Utah, Mike Mole (3-0, 1.95 GAA, .934), Nathan Lawson (5-3, 2.52 GAA, .915). • Top scorers: Las Vegas, Peter Ferraro 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists), Tyler Mosienko 14 (4-10), Adam Cracknell 14 (4-10), Adam Miller 12 (3-9); Utah, Keith Johnson 13 (6-7), James Sanford 12 (2-10), Ryan Kinasewich 10 (7-3), Tyler Haskins 10 (4-6) REVIEW JOURNAL