Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wranglers down Utah 6-4 in first game of playoffs

By Anthony Fenech

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 | 11:47 p.m.

The Las Vegas Wranglers offense answered the bell.

Down a pair of goals early in the second period, with momentum and Game 1 of the National Conference quarterfinals against the Utah Grizzlies slipping away, the Wranglers made a series-opening statement.

“The key was how we responded when we were scored against,” Las Vegas head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “We talked about it before the series, about situations like that and how important it is to respond to a goal.”

Forward Kyle Hagel and captain Chris Neiszner scored just 11 seconds apart to tie the game, and Las Vegas added two more in the second period for four unassisted goals as the Wranglers took the first game of the series, 6-4, defeating the Grizzlies on home ice.

“We responded the right way and that was the difference,” Mougenel said.

The second period started the same as the first, with a tie score leading to a quick Utah goal.

Grizzlies defenseman Tim Maxwell scored just 20 seconds into the period, assisted by forward James Sixsmith and left-winger Dylan Hunter. That score was followed by a Tim Crowder goal just 1:23 later.

But the two-goal lead didn’t deter the Wranglers. Hagel responded with an unassisted goal on a wrist shot that beat the left pad of Utah goalie Mikko Koskinen.

“We had to crank it up a little bit, kick it into a higher gear so we could get back in the game,” Hagel said.

The goal was set up by a Neiszner back-check near center ice, creating a turnover that landed on Hagel’s stick.

“It was an awesome back-check,” Hagel said of Neiszner’s play.

Neiszner then joined the act, tying the game 11 seconds later as he chipped in a goal that eluded the glove of Koskinen.

The back-to-back goals signaled a shift in momentum, and the Wranglers weren’t finished.

Hagel scored his second goal of the period with 10:05 on the clock, pushing a rebound in traffic underneath Koskinen. Center Josh Prudden extended the lead to two by roofing a breakaway wrist shot past the Grizzlies goalie to finish his night.

Koskinen was relieved by Mike Morrison, who stopped eight of nine shots and two penalty shots, one each awarded to Alex Bourret and Andrew Orpik.

“The offense was awesome tonight,” Wranglers goaltender Jimmy Spratt said. “When your team gives you six goals to work with, you should come out with the win most of the time.”

Spratt made 17 saves on 21 shots in his first ECHL playoff game.

Utah’s patience wore thin as the game moved along, irked with penalty calls and a goal that was called back in the third period.

Early in the period and on the power play, a point shot was deflected past Spratt for a goal. But it was immediately waved off for a high-stick by official Andy Thiessen.

The Grizzlies were penalized 10 times, and left-winger Lance Galbraith was whistled for two misconducts in the third.

Forward Ryan Weston scored midway through the third period on a breakaway to increase Las Vegas’ lead to three, and Utah’s Maxwell scored his second of the game 1:14 later to put a wrap on the scoring.

“They’re going to come at us hard,” Hagel said about Wednesday night’s Game 2. “They won’t roll over whatsoever. We have to have a better effort tomorrow because we don’t want to go back to square one being tied.”

Three stars: 1. Kyle Hagel (two goals, assist); 2. Ryan Weston (goal); 3. Utah’s Tim Maxwell (two goals).

Quick goals: Utah scored with less than a minute played in the first two periods. Malcom MacMillan scored 35 seconds into the first, and Maxwell scored his first just 20 seconds into the second period.

Attendance report: The 1,882 in attendance at the Orleans Arena was the lowest of the season.

Up next: Game 2 at the Orleans Arena on Wednesday night.

Final word: “We don’t want to be going to their rink in the hole,” Hagel said.

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