Saturday, March 6, 2010

Wranglers come from behind to beat Ontario, 7-6

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, March 6, 2010 | 12:07 a.m.

It was a game that didn’t want to end.

But with a Jerry Pollastrone goal in the 12th shootout round, the first of three playoff-implicating games was over, as the Wranglers came back to defeat the Ontario Reign, 7-6.

“We showed our resiliency tonight,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “Guys kept believing, throwing pucks at the net, and we knew good things would happen.”

The victory in Ontario, Calif., came in the most unlikely of fashions. The Wranglers allowed four second-period goals and watched goaltender Michael Ouzas get pulled, then responded with four goals of their own in the third period.

Back-to-back Ned Lukacevic goals, the first coming on a penalty shot, drew Las Vegas even with Ontario to send the game to overtime.

“It gave us a kick in the pants that we needed and the guys never stopped working from there,” Mougenel said.

After the Reign blanked the Wranglers in shots during the extra period but failed to manage a goal, the game went to a shootout in which the Wranglers out-scored the Reign, 7-6, in 12 rounds.

“Definitely two big points for our club,” Lukacevic, who leads the team in goals with 25, said. “It was an exciting game, and we were confident we could do it.”

The victory gives Las Vegas the one point they needed to equalize Ontario’s 56 points in the standings. The two teams are tied for the final playoff spot in the National Conference.

After skating to a one-all tie after one period, Ontario struck for three quick goals in the middle frame to chase Ouzas.

Wranglers defenseman Mike Madill netted a shot at the 12:13 mark of the second period to pull Las Vegas within two. But Ontario’s Sean O’Connor responded less than three minutes later for a three-goal lead heading into the third.

“I told them not to change a thing and that they were playing well,” Mougenel said of the conversation during the second intermission. “But I also told them if there was a person in there that didn’t think we could score three goals, to stay in the locker room, because I knew we could.”

In relief, Joel Gistedt stopped 17 of 19 shots, including a crucial penalty shot by Ontario’s Greg Hogeboom six minutes into the third period.

“It was a game-changer,” Mougenel said.

Down three goals late in the contest, Mick Lawrence ignited the visitors with a goal from John Schwarz.

Just 50 seconds later, Lukacevic was awarded a penalty shot and beat Ontario goalie Curtis Darling. Suddenly, Las Vegas was down just a goal with over half of the period to play.

On the goal, Lukacevic faked a shot to one side, saw the other side of the net open and took the chance.

“It was exciting but nerve-racking, and luckily I got the result I wanted,” he said.

With 6:45 left on the clock, Lukacevic completed the comeback with a power-play goal assisted by forward Alex Bourret and defenseman Jason Krischuk.

“Our guys did a great job of feeding pucks to the net tonight,” he said. “We kept giving ourselves opportunities to win the game.”

Out-shot 31-26 in the contest, Las Vegas scored on half of their eight shots in the third period.

In the shootout, Gistedt’s save on Ontario right-winger Tony Voce sealed the victory on his fifth attempt to end the game.

“Joel gave us the boost we needed,” Mougenel said.

Las Vegas’ Achilles heel in the near-loss was on the penalty kill, where they allowed four Ontario power-play goals in seven opportunities.

“Guys need to step up more and find a better way to get those pucks not to go in,” Lukacevic said.

Tied in the Pacific Division standings, the Wranglers and Reign face off for two more games this weekend, Saturday and Sunday.

“It was a huge win,” Mougenel said. “But tomorrow is another day.”

He was undecided on who would start in net tomorrow night at Citizens Business Bank Arena.

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