The Alaska Aces wrapped up their short morning skate a bit ago, and coach Rob Murray will have some lineup changes for tonight's Game 4 against the Las Vegas Wranglers in the ECHL Western Conference finals at Sullivan Arena.
Up front, rookie winger Chris Bruton will be back in the lineup after missing the last four games with a lower-body injury. Meanwhile, Scott Howes did not practice (illness) and will not be in the lineup.
On the back end, rookie defenseman Brock Shelgren is back at Michigan State to take a test -- he's wrapping up his degree -- and Murray will go with five defensemen: Bryan Miller, Steve Ward, Chad Anderson, Tyson Marsh and Kane Lafranchise. (Defenseman Brandon Gentile will miss his fifth straight game with an upper-body injury).
So, Murray said he will dress 11 forwards and five defensemen -- instead of the usual 10 and six -- and that matches the complement the Wranglers have used in the last two matches.
For what it's worth, here's what the Aces' forward lines looked like to The Blog this morning:
Given the odd number of forwards, Murray said he may try to get Dan Kissel extra ice time. Kissel has had arguably the most jump in his legs among Aces forwards in this series -- well, Garry Nunn almost always has some jump, he's pure speed -- and although he doesn't have a point in the series, the club's leading regular-season scorer in the regular season has fired 17 shots in the three series games. And his 41 shots in eight playoff games are nearly double any other Ace -- Ryan Cruthers and Jordan Kremyr check in with 22 each.
The Aces could use a goal out of Kissel, or Wes Goldie, or Brian Swanson -- anyone really. They have only scored four goals against Wranglers goaltender Joe Fallon in three games.
Pivotal game tonight, you think? An Aces win squares the series at 2-2 and turns it into a best-of-3 beginning with Wednesday night's Game 5. An Aces loss, and they trail 3-1 and face elimination.
So far, the Aces, the league's best home-ice team in the regular season, is 1-2 at Sullivan in the playoffs -- granted, both losses in overtime. But in the postseason, a loss is a loss is a loss.