Wranglers lose 5-1 to Aces in ECHL playoff opener

A little more than an hour after the eighth-seeded Detroit Red Wings upset the top-seeded Boston Bruins in the opener of their NHL Eastern Conference playoff series Friday night, the Wranglers hit the ice against the Alaska Aces intent on repeating the feat in the ECHL playoffs.

About an hour later, any hopes No. 8 Las Vegas had of knocking off No. 1 Alaska were all but extinguished as it fell behind 4-1 in the first minute of the second period.

The Wranglers never recovered in a 5-1 loss to the Aces, who took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 ECHL Western Conference quarterfinal series before a crowd of 4,197 at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

Game 2 is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. PDT today in Alaska, with Games 3 and 4 slated for 7:05 p.m. Wednesday and Friday at Orleans Arena.

John Armstrong scored the only goal for the Wranglers to tie the game 1-1 at 15:21 of the first period.

The Aces then reeled off four straight goals, netting two in 26 seconds late in the first to go ahead 3-1.

Drew McKenzie beat rookie Travis Fullerton (35 saves) on the power play at 18:01 to give Alaska a 2-1 edge, and Jordan Morrison scored in front at 18:27.

“That was tough for us,” Las Vegas coach Mike Madill said of the two quick scores. “We tried to outwit the other team more than play a hockey game.

“Travis did an amazing job. They could’ve scored eight tonight. We didn’t play a very good hockey game.”

Morrison added his second goal at 37 seconds of the second.

Peter Sivak, the league’s second-leading scorer in the regular season with 83 points (31 goals), added a goal with 1:15 left.

Aces captain Nick Mazzolini — who had 25 goals and 72 points in the regular season — put Alaska in front at 12:13, off a feed from Sivak, and had two assists.

Chad Nehring assisted on Armstrong’s goal and had a strong scoring bid denied in the second by Gerald Coleman, who made 19 saves as the Aces took twice as many shots (40-20) as Las Vegas.

The Wranglers had the ECHL’s worst record (20-44-8) in the regular season and would have almost certainly missed the playoffs had San Francisco not folded. The Aces had the league’s best mark (45-19-7) for the fourth straight year.

Las Vegas, which has beaten Alaska only two times in 14 meetings this season, has split four playoff series in the past eight years with the Aces.

The perpetually positive Madill pointed to the most recent playoff series between the teams in 2012, when the former defenseman helped the Wranglers eliminate Alaska in five games en route to the Kelly Cup Finals.

“The good news is the last time we played these guys in the playoffs, we lost the first one and won four straight after that,” he said.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.

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