We'll keep it tight tonight -- it's been a long season, and it's over for the Alaska Aces after their 3-1 loss tonight to Las Vegas earned the Wranglers the ECHL's Western Conference title in five games.
So ends the Aces' defense of the Kelly Cup they captured last season for the second time in franchise history. So ends the quest for a fourth trip to the Kelly Cup Finals.
Las Vegas was simply a better team, more dynamic, deeper, and as three straight wins at Sullivan Arena proved, deserving.
The Aces got out to a strong start on Dan Kissel's strike five minutes into the game, but the Wranglers countered on goals from Eric Lampe (his third in three games) and former Ace Judd Blackwater to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. That lead held behind Joe Fallon's 26 saves. Former UAA winger Josh Lunden scored short-handed into an empty Aces net with 2.4 seconds left to seal things.
As Aces captain Brian Swanson pointed out, only one team is happy at the end of the season. Last year it was the Aces. This year it will be Las Vegas, or the Florida Everblades or Kalamazoo K-Wings, the club the Aces beat in five games for the Cup last season. Florida owns a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals after tonight's 7-0 beatdown of visiting Kalamazoo.
Too much Lampe-Blackwater-Adam Miller for the Aces these last three games. The Wranglers' first line bagged six goals in that span, one more than the Aces managed as a team. Las Vegas' defense is deep and stingy and mobile and Joe Fallon merely stopped 123 of 130 shots in the series (.946 save percentge).
Hey, good season for the Aces -- they became the only team in league history to win consecutive Brabham Cups as regular-season champs. No team has repeated as ECHL playoff champs since the Toledo Storm in 1993 and 1994.
You can't win the big hardware every year. Wouldn't be much of a challenge if you could.
Still, consider what the Aces have done in nine ECHL seasons: Two Kelly Cups, three trips to the Finals, nine playoff appearances and only one first-round dismissal. Impressive.
So, The Blog bids says goodnight to you all. We'll probably have a season wrap-up in a day or two in the dead-trees edition of the ADN, then settle in for some Stanley Cup time on the couch -- damn, missed that Rangers-Caps triple OT today.
As always, thanks for reading. The newspaper biz isn't exactly flourishing these days, so The Blog appreciates you readers.