Wranglers clinch spot in finals

Before Wednesday’s game, Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel received a text message from his predecessor in Las Vegas – Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan – urging him to “enjoy the journey” in the playoffs.

After rallying for their fourth straight win over Alaska, the Wranglers will be enjoying a journey to the ECHL Kelly Cup finals for only the second time in franchise history.

Eric Lampe and Judd Blackwater each had a goal and an assist, and Joe Fallon stopped 17 of 18 shots to lead Las Vegas to a 3-1 victory over the Aces at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska, in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

The Wranglers clinched their first trip to the Kelly Cup finals since 2008, when a Gulutzan-led squad lost in six games to Cincinnati.

After dropping the opener at Orleans Arena, Las Vegas dominated in a 3-0 win in Game 2 and then won three straight on Sullivan Arena’s Olympic-sized ice sheet, where the Aces have long owned the best home-ice advantage in the league.

“To come up here on the big ice and win three straight games, I don’t know if it’s ever been done,” Mougenel said. “This bunch of guys is just phenomenal. They embraced it and looked forward to the challenge.”

Lampe and Blackwater scored goals less than four minutes apart in the first period to put the Wranglers ahead 2-1, and Las Vegas hung on behind another strong effort from Fallon and its defense.

Las Vegas withstood a late charge by Alaska, which had a 6-on-4 power play for the final 1:28 after a hooking penalty on Scott Campbell. Alaska then pulled goalie Gerald Coleman, who stopped 24 of 26 shots.

Josh Lunden scored a short-handed, empty-net goal with three seconds left. It was the Wranglers’ only shot of the third period as they were outshot, 6-1.

The Wranglers, who will have home-ice advantage in the Kelly Cup finals, will face the winner of the Eastern Conference finals series between Florida and Kalamazoo. Florida won 7-0 on Wednesday to take a 2-1 lead.

“For all the guys that played before and for the people of Las Vegas who have been so good to us, we want to bring (a Kelly Cup) home,” Mougenel said.

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

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