About a month ago, the Wranglers had little hope of catching defending ECHL champion Alaska for the league’s best record and the top seed and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Today, Las Vegas has a one-point lead over the Aces with three games remaining in the regular season.
The Wranglers (43-12-14, 100 points) took a 3-0 lead en route to a 4-3 victory over last-place Long Beach on Tuesday night at the Orleans Arena to pass Alaska (46-16-7, 99). The victory was Las Vegas’ season-high 10th straight.
“It’s a big mental boost for the guys,” said Wranglers left wing Steve Crampton, who gave Las Vegas a 2-0 lead with a second-period goal.
Wranglers coach Glen Gulutzan was already looking forward to tonight’s game at Long Beach, but he took a moment to reflect on the team’s surge down the stretch.
“A month ago, nobody was talking about us catching Alaska, but we’ve reeled them in and the ball’s in our court,” Gulutzan said. “That’s all you can hope for. There are three games left in the season, and we’re battling for first place overall in the league. That’s a pretty nice thing.
“It’s about being mentally tough for us now. We’re taking every game as it comes, and hopefully we’ll be better.”
Nick Anderson’s second breakaway of the night turned out better than his first, when he was stopped by Long Beach goalie Mike Brown in the first period.
Anderson delivered what turned out to be the game-winning goal 8:57 into the third period, when he streaked down the right side of the ice to catch up with the puck, then sent a quick cross-ice pass to Aki Seitsonen, who fired a one-timer past Brown to give the Wranglers a 4-2 lead.
“We’re glad Andy didn’t have another breakaway, because he’s had a few and hasn’t scored on them,” Gulutzan said. “He had a half of a breakaway, and he’s a better disher than a finisher, and Aki needed a goal.”
Ash Goldie netted his second goal for the Ice Dogs (25-41-3) to make the score 4-3 with 3:18 left, but Las Vegas goalie Kevin Nastiuk (32 saves) and the rest of the Wranglers made the score stand up.
Jason Jozsa and Joe Tallari also scored goals for Las Vegas, which wraps up its season with home games against Stockton on Friday and Saturday. Alaska will play its final three games at home against last-place Utah.
“First place is on the line every night now in these next three games. It’s in our court. If we can keep winning, no one else can catch us,” said Crampton, who took a hard shot to the ribs in the third period but finished the game. “We can bear down for three games — that’s not so hard to do — and come in really hot for the playoffs.”
• NOTE — Forward Shawn Limpright, who leads the Wranglers with a plus-23 rating, was suspended for two games and fined an undisclosed amount for his actions in Saturday’s victory over Alaska. Defenseman Ryan Donally was suspended for one game.
Alaska’s Steven Later (three games, fine), Peter Metcalf (two games, fine) and Julian Talbot (game) were punished for their actions in the game, which featured several fights in the third period.Las Vegas Wranglers