O’Keefe hot at right time, backstops Wranglers’ win

After breaking a blade in his skate Tuesday morning, Wranglers goalie Mitch O’Keefe had to wear a new pair of skates in Tuesday night’s game against Ontario at Orleans Arena.

After stopping 29 of 30 shots to help lead Las Vegas to a 2-1 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Reign, O’Keefe heated up his skates in a hockey skate oven to help break them in more.

“It heats them up so they mold to your feet better, so it doesn’t take three weeks to break them in,” he said.

Likewise, O’Keefe — who underwent elbow surgery earlier this season and is playing through a broken right pinkie finger — took awhile to get going this year but has found his top form with one game left in the regular season.

“Since I’ve been healthy and the team has let me have a few more games, I’m finally getting my groove,” he said. “It’s good timing. We’re playing great defensive hockey right now, we’re starting to score a little more, and hopefully we get it going the right way before the playoffs.”

O’Keefe, who went 5-0 for the Wranglers to start last season’s playoffs, has allowed only five goals in his past four games (3-1), giving up three in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Utah.

“Mitch was awesome,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “I don’t think he was very good (Saturday), but to bounce back the way he did says a lot about him.

“I don’t question Mitch’s character or work ethic. He’s a consummate pro and he’s been real good.”

O’Keefe (7-9-0, 2.76 goals-against average) and Joe Fallon (24-18-5, 2.42 GAA) give Las Vegas a solid goaltending tandem heading into this year’s playoffs.

“Joe and I both can play, and we both help each other out,” O’Keefe said. “We’re a great one-two punch together, and we have a great friendship, too, so it’s awesome.

“I think everyone is starting to feel on top of their game. We want to make another run at it. That’s why we’re here. Half the guys came back because we want to win a championship.”

The Wranglers (36-30-5, 77 points) all but clinched the Western Conference’s fifth playoff seed with their win over the second-seeded Reign (45-18-7, 97).

Las Vegas can clinch the fifth seed — and a first-round matchup against the No. 4 Stockton Thunder (36-26-9, 81) — today with a loss by Colorado (33-30-6, 72).

Judd Blackwater scored a tiebreaking goal with 3:31 left in the second period off a wraparound feed from Chris Francis, and O’Keefe and the defense made the score stand.

The Wranglers are fourth in the ECHL in goals-against average (2.64).

“Our goaltending and our defense have been amazing,” Mougenel said.

Team captain Mike Madill returned to a defense still missing Jamie Fritsch and Channing Boe — who are out with injuries — and Josh Godfrey, who remains in the American Hockey League.

Las Vegas also received a boost with the return of right wing Sean Wiles from Bridgeport (AHL). Wiles, who scored a goal and had two assists in his first three AHL games, assisted on Andrew Sarauer’s goal with 35 seconds left in the first period.

“To get an injection of life in a lineup is always kind of good,” Mougenel said. “We’ve played (18) games in (33) days. It’s ridiculous.”

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

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