Desperation can be a great source of inspiration when facing elimination.
It certainly was for the Wranglers on Saturday when they responded with their best performance of the ECHL playoffs in a 5-1 rout of Idaho at Boise.
To keep its season alive, Las Vegas must produce a worthy encore performance tonight at Orleans Arena in the decisive Game 5 of its Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Steelheads.
The winner advances to the conference semifinals against top-seeded Alaska.
"We can’t change anything," said Wranglers goalie Michael Ouzas, who made 29 saves in Game 4. "Everybody just kind of came together and played desperate hockey, and I think we need to play a little more like that all the time.
"We’ve just got to bring the same intensity."
Ouzas and Idaho rookie goalie Jerry Kuhn have been outstanding. Ouzas, who blanked the Steelheads 1-0 in double overtime in Game 1, has stopped 122 of 128 shots and his 1.11 goals-against average ranks second in the ECHL playoffs.
Kuhn has stopped 135 of 144 shots and is third in GAA (1.66). But the Western Michigan product allowed five goals on 21 shots in Game 4.
"We did a better job of getting traffic and getting in front of him and getting second opportunities. I would expect that to be the same difference maker (tonight)," said Las Vegas rookie left wing Blair Riley, who has a team-leading three goals and four points in the series.
He gave the Wranglers quick 1-0 leads in the past two games, scoring at 2:25 of Game 3 and 17 seconds of Game 4. Center Tyler Mosienko said starting fast will be crucial in Game 5.
"We’ve got to have a good start, like the way we started last game, and we need everybody to step up like they did," said Mosienko, who scored twice Saturday. "We were real physical and we got to the net a lot better.
"We really weren’t getting in (Kuhn’s) face a lot the first three games. But the last game we got in his face and made his job a lot harder, and we’ve got to keep doing that."
Another key could be cashing in on the power play. Las Vegas is 2-for-15 in the series with a man advantage, but both goals came Saturday. Idaho, 2-for-14 on the power play, netted both goals in its 3-2 triple-overtime win in Game 2 here.
■ NOTES — Right wing Ned Lukacevic will return to the Wranglers from San Antonio of the American Hockey League. He has 18 points in 17 games this season for Las Vegas. … Idaho forward Geoff Irwin and defenseman Cody Lampl were suspended by the ECHL for tonight’s game because of their actions at the end of Game 4. Lampl was penalized for instigating and Irwin drew a match penalty.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.IDAHO VS. LAS VEGAS
WHAT: Game 5, ECHL Western Conference quarterfinals (best-of-5)
WHEN: 7:05 p.m. today
WHERE: Orleans Arena