Sunday, January 3, 2010

Wranglers stay on track with sweep of Utah

By Anthony Fenech

Sunday, Jan. 3, 2010 | 6:17 p.m.

Mick Lawrence and Josh Prudden agreed.

Midway through the third period of Sunday's game against the Utah Grizzlies, Lawrence looked Prudden's way as they sat on the Wranglers' bench.

"Are we really doing anything different than we were doing at the start of the year?" Lawrence asked. "Because it doesn't really feel like it."

Winning, of course, is what the Wranglers are doing differently, and, more specifically this past weekend, they were beating the Grizzlies.

The Wranglers completed a two-game sweep Sunday at the Orleans Arena with a 5-3 victory over Utah and now stands at 14-14-1 thanks to a third-period comeback.

"This was a big win," head coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We played extremely hard for each other and we're not only playing hard, we're working hard. That's been the main thing for us, our work ethic."

Chris Neizner's deflection off a Craig Switzer slap shot at the 3:36 mark of the third period proved to be the game winner for the Wranglers, who have won five consecutive games and eight of their last 12.

The win draws them even with the Ontario Reign for third place in the ECHL Pacific Division.

"This is the rise of the dead," Mougenel said. "That's what we've done, we've risen from the dead, but we still have a long way to go with where we want to be."

Facing a one-goal deficit late in the second period, Las Vegas' fortunes turned from an unlikely source — the power play.

With six mintues left in the second period, Matt Kang scored his third goal of the season, this time on a deflection off a Robbie Bina slap shot that also was assisted by Lawrence.

The power-play goal tied the game at 2-all but Utah responded two minutes later with a goal from forward Jadren Beljo.

Beljo's goal marked the second time in the game the Grizzlies rapidly responded to a Las Vegas score.

The first came in the opening frame, when Utah's Tom May scored on the next shift, answering Ned Lukacevic's game-opening goal in just 20 seconds.

"I didn't particularly like how we were giving up goals after we scored," Mougenel said. "But the bottom line is that we found a way and that's the most important thing."

Down a goal heading into the third period, the Utah lead quickly was erased when Wranglers forward Jeff Hazelwood punched home a puck from the doorstep of the crease.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Lukacevic said. "It's a nice feeling, especially after struggling the first couple of months. We feel like we're back on track now."

Neizner netted the game-winning goal just moments after Hazelwood's equalizer, and Prudden tallied an insurance goal midway through the third for the final margin.

Prudden's goal was the Wranglers' third power-play score of the game, marking the second time this season they have scored three goals with the advantage. The first came Oct. 24 against the Alaska Aces.

"We talked a lot about getting inside the dots and getting into tough areas to score," Mougenel said of the power play. "That's what we did tonight. Simplicity works best sometimes."

Michael Ouzas recorded his fifth straight victory, stopping 28 of 31 Utah shots.

"Every win is a big win," Ouzas said. "But these are the games we have to win, down a goal going into the third. It will give us confidence and hopefully we'll keep rolling."

Utah drops to 15-13-3 with the loss.

"It's very frustrating," Grizzlies head coach Kevin Colley said. "We're not playing as a team and there are a lot of individuals that aren't doing too much for us and are hurting us."

Three stars: 1. Ned Lukacevic (goal, assist); 2. Robbie Bina (3 assists); 3. Craig Switzer (assist)

Home Cookin': The Wranglers have now won eight straight games at Orleans Arena, dating back to Dec. 1.

Opening Eleven: Lukacevic's first-period goal marked the 11th consecutive game the Wranglers have scored first. They are 7-3-0-1 in that span.

O'Fer No More: Grizzlies goaltender O'Keefe had a spell cast over the Wranglers heading into Sunday's game, with a perfect 7-0-0 record against Las Vegas. The five goals allowed were the most in his career against the Wranglers.

Leading the way: Bina's three assists were his seventh, eighth and ninth of the year in eight games against the Grizzlies, along with three goals. Those 12 points lead the team versus Utah.

Up next: Three games against the Ontario Reign. Las Vegas travels Wednesday to Ontario, then returns to the Orleans Arena next weekend.

Final word: "This team has been one of our nemesis," Mougenel said of Utah. "These two games should bode well for us as we move along."

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