Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wranglers beat Victoria 2-1 for three-game sweep

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.

Oh, how a week can change things.

Heading into this week, the Las Vegas Wranglers were down.

Losers of seven consecutive games, they sat in the basement of the ECHL National Conference Pacific Division without an offense, a goalie or confidence.

Three victories later, the Wranglers are up.

Friday night at the Orleans Arena, they completed a series sweep of the Victoria Salmon Kings with a 2-1 win, thanks to a scoring line that’s gelled, stellar goaltending and the return of their confidence.

“It’s important that we learned a lot when we went through that losing time,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “And we did. This series proves that.”

For the second time in the series, Francis Lemieux found a way to put the game-winning goal in the net, this time scoring with just over five minutes to play in the game.

“I was kind of late on the play,” Lemieux said. “I was trying to back check, and then I saw the puck coming my way.”

Lemieux corralled the puck near center ice and, as the defense closed in on him, spotted line mate Adam Miller to his left, streaking across the blue line.

He fed Miller a saucer pass, which the center clanked off of the left post. Keeping a close trail on the play, the puck crawled through the crease, onto Lemieux’s stick and into the wide-open net for a goal.

“It was kind of lucky because I wasn’t at a good angle,” he said. “But it got in there and we got the win, so I’ll take it.”

The goal was Lemieux’s third of the three-game set, to go along with two assists.

“We’ve scored some goals and that’s what we’ve been struggling with,” he said. “It was a tough game and when the game was on the line in the third period, we stepped up.”

Both Lemieux and Miller had their hand in the first goal of the contest, assisting on Ryan Weston’s early second-period goal.

Miller’s two assists extended a two-game point streak as he continues to lead the Wranglers in points with 27. He anchors the scoring line with Weston and Lemieux.

“That’s a real good line. Offensively, they’re great,” Mougenel said. “They have their defensive deficiencies but, overall, they played an impressive series.”

Earning the win in goal for the Wranglers (9-12-1) was Joel Gistedt, who early this season has served primarily as Michael Ouzas’ backup.

Gistedt stopped 25 of Victoria’s 26 shots and made a number of key saves down the stretch, including a flurry in the final minute of the game as the Salmon Kings worked a 6-on-4 power play with their goalie pulled.

“It’s just so much fun to get out there and play,” he said. “We had some great defense out there tonight, and I saw pretty much every shot they took.”

After struggling early in the year, Gistedt, a second-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2007, impressed Mougenel with his performance.

“He made the stops that he needed to make,” Mougenel said. “It was nice to see Joel come back and play what to me was an extremely great game. I was real happy for him.”

Victoria (6-13-2) tied the game late in the second period on Tim Wedderburn’s slap shot from the right circle that beat Gistedt top-shelf blocker side. It was the only blemish on his stat sheet Friday night.

Stars of the game: 1. Francis Lemieux (Goal, assist); 2. Ryan Weston (Goal); 3. Joel Gistedt (25 saves)

Heavy hitter: Weston, who introduced Victoria’s Patrick Coulombe to the boards midway through the third period. Coulombe misplayed the puck near his own blue line and Weston, with a head of steam, made him pay.

Take a breather: In light of the team’s recent performance and its Christmas party Saturday night, Mougenel decided to give the players a couple of days off.

Line on fire: The trio of Lemieux, Miller and Weston combined for eight goals and eight assists in the series against Victoria.

Up next: Victoria, on the road next weekend for three games, bringing the total to six games these two teams has played in a row.

Final word: “When you win, it breeds confidence,” Weston said.

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