Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers bury Thunder in regular season finale

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Las Vegas Sun

Wranglers rookie forward Scott McCulloch is all smiles after scoring the first of two goals against the Thunder on Saturday night at the Orleans Arena for Las Vegas’ regular season finale.

Wranglers close out regular season

Wranglers netminder Glenn Fisher watches the puck after deflecting it with his blocker during the third period against the Thunder at the Orleans Arena. Fisher made 35 saves Saturday night. Launch slideshow »

Playoff Schedule

  • Game 1: Bakersfield at Las Vegas on Friday, April 10th at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans Arena
  • Game 2: Bakersfield at Las Vegas on Saturday, April 11th at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans Arena
  • Game 3: Las Vegas at Bakersfield on Wednesday, April 15th at 7:00 p.m. at Rabobank Arena
  • Game 4: Las Vegas at Bakersfield on Friday, April 17th at 7:00 p.m. at Rabobank Arena
  • Game 5: Las Vegas at Bakersfield on Saturday, April 18th at 7:00 p.m. at Rabobank Arena (if necessary)
  • Game 6: Bakersfield at Las Vegas on Tuesday, April 21st at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans Arena (if necessary)
  • Game 7: Bakersfield at Las Vegas on Wednesday, April 22nd at 7:30 p.m. at the Orleans Arena (if necessary)

The Las Vegas Wranglers closed out the regular season in grand fashion Saturday night.

One night after shutting out Stockton, the Wranglers capitalized on a four-goal, first period to silence the Thunder 5-3 in front of 6,564 fans at the Orleans Arena.

Mick Lawrence and rookie forward Scott McCulloch each scored two goals to help the Wranglers clinch second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Wranglers (34-31-8) will face the Bakersfield Condors (33-31-8) in the opening round of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

"We are going in the right direction and this is a great weekend to spearhead us into the playoffs," McCulloch said. "Hopefully we can continue to use this momentum."

The Wranglers certainly used the momentum from Friday's 4-0 drubbing of the Thunder as Las Vegas scored two goals on its first three shots.

McCulloch sparked the early scoring binge just 2:06 into the game when he buried a rebound from a shot by Adam Miller. Less than four minutes later, Lawrence tallied his first of the night to put the Wranglers on top 2-0.

McCulloch scored his second goal of the night at the 12:34 mark when he somehow squeezed the puck between Stockton goalie Bryan Pitton and the right post for the 3-0 lead. The 22-year-old from Colorado College has now notched five goals and four assists in his last six games with the Wranglers.

"Our young guys have played very well," said Las Vegas coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan. "It's going to make my job very hard on Monday to put in the playoff roster."

Center Dan Riedel capped off the first period's offensive onslaught off of a smooth 2-on-1 feed from Miller. Riedel one-timed Miller's pass for his 23rd goal of the season and extended the Wranglers' lead to 4-0.

The Wranglers' hot start cooled off, though, after the first period as Stockton out-shot Las Vegas 29-17 in the final two periods.

Thunder forward Craig Valette scored early in the second period and forward Brandon Naurato added another Stockton goal early in the third period to slash the Wranglers lead to 4-2.

"Sometimes in a 4-0 game you relax a bit, not by design, but that just happens with your mentality," Gulutzan said.

But Lawrence responded on the power play with his second goal of the night 4:54 into the third period for the 5-2 Las Vegas lead.

Stockton's David Rohlfs added another Thunder tally with 6:05 remaining in the game, but Las Vegas goalie Glenn Fisher held on for the victory with 35 saves to improve to 13-7-2.

Let the playoffs begin: The Wranglers, who are now 22-12-2 at home this season; will have a full week to prepare for a best-of-seven series with the Condors.

Las Vegas is 5-3-1 against Bakersfield this year with a 3-1 advantage at home. The last time these two teams met, the Condors came out on top 7-4 in Bakersfield on March 28.

"A whole new season starts up," Gulutzan said. "Last year I didn't say that, but for us it really is with this team. We've had a lot of turnover."

Stars of the game: 1. Scott McCulloch (2 goals); 2. Mick Lawrence (2 goals); 3. Adam Millers (2 assists)

Heavy hitters: Tim Spencer and Jason Dest both dropped the gloves Saturday and both won their respective fights. Spencer (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) flattened Garet Hunt (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) late in the first period. Dest (6-foot, 190-pounds) then squared off against Judd Blackwater (6-foot, 195-pounds) in the third period. I think the judges gave the decision to Dest in that bout.

Next up: The Wranglers host Bakersfield at the Orleans Arena Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Final word: "We wanted to keep the intensity up from the night before," McCulloch said. "We accomplished that in the first period and set the tone for the rest of the game."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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