The Alaska Aces now stare at the potential end of their ECHL hockey season.
The Las Vegas Wranglers' 3-2 win in Game 4 tonight at Sullivan Arena -- and it was only a one-goal game because Alaska defenseman Chad Anderson scored an extra-attacker goal with five seconds left -- gave the Wranglers a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 Western Conference finals.
Game 5 is Wednesday night, and the Aces must win to force Game 6 at Sullivan on Friday, and then must win that match to force a Game 7 back in Vegas, where the teams split the first two games of the series.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but only four teams in the league's 24-season history have climbed back from a 3-1 deficit.
Dynamic starts by the Wranglers -- and thus, poor ones by the Aces -- have derailed the defending Kelly Cup champions. Former Ace Judd Blackwater scored less than two minutes into tonight's game, which marked the third time in four series games the Wranglers have opened the scoring in five minutes of less. That cushion became 2-0 when Eric Lampe scored less than 12 minutes into the game.
Peter MacArthur's goal seven minutes into the second period pushed the margin to 3-0.
Alaska winger Dan Kissel, the team's leading scorer in the regular season and easily its best forward in this series, cut the gap to 3-1 with a spectacular goal in the final minute of the second period. He took a pass from Wes Goldie (two helpers), blew between defensemen Barry Goers and Jamie Fritsch, and shoveled a backhander past Joe Fallon, who has been nails in this series. And, hey, it isn't as if Goers and Fritsch are just warm bodies -- those two blueliners played a combined 41 AHL games this season.
Fallon continues to frustrate the Aces. He has permitted just six goals in five games in racking a .946 save percentage in the series.
Alaska's problems mounted in the second period. Winger Scott Howes, who initially was going to be a scratch with illness but was a late addition to the lineup, did not come out for the second period. He did play in the third period. And center Ryan Cruthers left the ice gingerly in the opening minute of the second period and missed the first half of the period. He played the rest of the game, but didn't look 100 percent.
Frankly, the Wranglers look pretty tough right now. Fallon is sharp, their forwards are fast and lethal, and their defense is often keeping the Aces from generating any sustained time in Las Vegas' end. That's a strong combination of quality.
So, the Aces are all out of mulligans. Win Wednesday and their season continues. Lose, and it's bag-packing time.