For the second straight game, the Wranglers gave up a game-tying goal to the Utah Grizzlies in the final minute of regulation. And, for the second straight game, it didn’t matter.
In Game 3 of the ECHL’s National Conference finals Thursday, left wing Bruce Mulherin scored the winning goal for Las Vegas 5:11 into overtime at the E-Center in West Valley City, Utah, to give the Wranglers a 3-2 triumph and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
Utah defenseman Andy MacDonald had tied the score at 2 by scoring with 59 seconds left in regulation.
The Wranglers had won Game 2 on Tuesday on a goal by Aki Seitsonen 1:36 into the extra session after right wing Olivier Labelle tied the score for Utah with one second remaining in regulation.
The Wranglers will try to complete a sweep of the Grizzlies at 6:05 p.m. today at the E-Center.
Las Vegas defenseman Aaron Power helped set up the winning score on the power play, firing a shot from the point that deflected off the back boards and landed next to the net. Left wing Kelly Czuy tried to jam the puck inside the near post but was denied by Grizzlies goaltender Mike Mole (26 saves), who failed to cover it.
Mulherin then swooped in and punched it between Mole’s legs into the back of the net.
“Czuy did a good job of taking it right to the net. I saw the puck sitting there between the goalie’s legs and hammered her into the back of the net,” said Mulherin, who scored his third playoff goal. “We battled all game, and it paid off in the long run.”
Las Vegas, 4-1 in overtime in the playoffs, went 1-for-5 on the power play. Grizzlies right wing Keith Johnson was whistled for interference at 3:39 of overtime to set up the Wranglers’ man advantage.
The Grizzlies tied the score 2-2 with less than a minute left in the third period when MacDonald scored on a shot from the point that sailed through traffic and past Las Vegas goalie Kevin Lalande (29 saves), who was screened on the play.
“We were a little bit rattled, but we stayed composed,” Mulherin said. “We’ve been in that situation more than a couple times in the playoffs.
“We just had to stay clam and work hard, and things will go your way as well, and that’s what happened in overtime.”
Center Tyler Mosienko gave the Wranglers a 2-1 lead when he buried a rebound with 5:35 remaining in regulation. Mosienko helped set up the score, winning a face-off in the Utah zone. Defenseman Jason Jozsa fired a quick shot on net that Mole saved, but Mosienko banged home the rebound.
Jozsa took a puck to his face on Thursday, leaving it swollen and opening a cut on his right cheek that took four stitches to close.
Utah tied the score 1-1 with 4:51 left in the first period on a power-play goal by center Tyler Haskins, his sixth of the playoffs and the Grizzlies’ first power-play goal of the series. Seitsonen scored his third goal in two games and sixth of the playoffs, netting a one-timer to give Las Vegas a 1-0 lead 9:15 into the game.
In 20 years of ECHL hockey, no team has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Still, the Wranglers aren’t taking anything for granted.
“The job’s not done yet,” Mosienko said. “The fourth one’s always the hardest one to get.”
• NOTE — Utah captain Travis Rycroft and defenseman Ian Forbes are out with undisclosed injuries. Forbes, a 6-foot-7-inch, 238-pound veteran, left Monday’s Game 1 after taking a hard hit from Wranglers 6-2, 210-pound right wing Adam Cracknell.LAS VEGAS — 3
UTAH — 2
KEY: Bruce Mulherin scored 5:11 into overtime to lift the Wranglers.
NEXT: Game 4, Wranglers at Grizzlies, 6:05 p.m. today, E-Center