Quirky Wranglers goalie Joe Fallon has been known to read calculus books for fun, but you don’t have to be a math wizard to figure out Las Vegas is one win away from advancing to the second round of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.
Fallon stopped all 31 shots he faced Wednesday night at Orleans Arena to help carry the Wranglers to a 3-0 victory over Stockton and a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference quarterfinal series.
“Joe Fallon kept us in the game,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “He made some huge saves.”
Fallon also shut out the Thunder 3-0 in Game 3 for the Wranglers, who swept their three home games after dropping the first two games in overtime at Stockton Arena.
Las Vegas, which has scored first in every game and has yet to trail in regulation, can clinch the series with a win in Game 6 on Friday in Stockton.
Game 7, if necessary, would take place Sunday in California.
“We’ve just got to go down there and win one. That’s all we want, and we want to do it Friday night,” Wranglers left wing Andrew Sarauer said. “If it goes to Sunday, it goes to Sunday — and anything can happen in Game 7, we all know that. But we want to take care of business Friday and get it done.”
Las Vegas’ leading scorer in the regular season, Sarauer was limited to one assist through the first four games before exploding for two goals and an assist in Game 5.
“One of his biggest strengths is how well he plays defensively,” Mougenel said. “He’s a prime example of how you get offensive chances by how well you play in your own end. He’s an extremely cerebral, bright hockey player.”
Sarauer scored in front of a feed from Scott Pitt with 2:27 left in the first period to put the Wranglers ahead 1-0. Chris Francis also assisted on the play, firing a shot that caromed off the post to Pitt in the corner.
Sarauer set up Judd Blackwater’s third goal of the series at the 5:16 mark of the third period to make it 2-0, then sealed the victory with an empty netter with 1:23 left.
“(My line) was kind of struggling to put up some points, but we had other guys step up,” said Sarauer, who compiled 62 regular-season points on 21 goals and 41 assists.
Las Vegas limited Stockton to two goals in its three home games, holding it scoreless for the final 102:27.
“Our defense is playing playoff-type hockey and that’s what you need,” Sarauer said. “Joe’s been a warrior for us all year. We know he’s going to be there for us, if there’s an odd-man rush or a breakaway.
“He’s especially big on the penalty kill and that’s what you need in the playoffs — goaltending and defense.”
With the teams playing their third game in three nights and fifth in six Wednesday, Mougenel said he contemplated starting Mitch O’Keefe in place of Fallon.
“Three games in three nights for a goalie is a lot,” he said. “You look at how much weight Joe Fallon probably lost the last few days. It’s ridiculous.”
Though he’s clearly not a fan of the playoff schedule, Mougenel rationalized it probably helped the Wranglers take control of the series.
“It didn’t give us a lot of time to mope or celebrate too much,” he said. “It was probably the best thing for our hockey club.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.
LAS VEGAS — 3
STOCKTON — 0
■ KEY: Andrew Sarauer had two goals and an assist, and Joe Fallon stopped all 32 shots he faced for the Wranglers, who took a 3-2 series lead.
■ NEXT: Wranglers at Thunder, Game 6, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Stockton Arena