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October 21, 2014

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HOCKEY:

Wranglers narrowly ground Condors

A savory victory does not normally come with a side of disappointment and a glass of anger, but it did for the Las Vegas Wranglers Monday night at the Orleans Arena.

The Wranglers nearly blew a four-goal lead in the final three minutes against the Bakersfield Condors before escaping with a 6-5 win to move two games above .500 for the first time all season with a 20-18-4 record.

Despite the accomplishment, there were no congratulations offered by coach and general manager Glen Gulutzan.

"You can't judge with this team," Gulutzan said. "How do you judge? We can get blown out 7-0 and then come back the next night and win 7-0. Who knows what goes through this team's head. It's unpredictable. It's like having a wild animal as a pet. You don't know what's going to happen. That's this team."

At first everything seemed to bounce the Wranglers' way as Las Vegas took a 1-0 lead just 37 seconds into the game thanks to a Bakersfield turnover that set up Chris Neiszner for his 15th goal of the season.

Las Vegas then exploded in the second period with four goals.

Mick Lawrence and Tyler Mosienko scored 33 seconds apart in the opening minutes of the second period to drop the Condors into a 3-0 hole. The Condors also then benched goalie Yutaka Fukufuji in favor of Dave McKee.

Following a goal by Bakersfield's Donny Grover, Justin Taylor and Kelly Czuy added goals late in the period to head into the locker room leading 5-1 to cause another goalie switch by the Condors.

"The only reason we won this game was because of their goaltending," Gulutzan said. "Their goaltending wasn't up to par tonight. Both their goalies are good goalies and they didn't play great tonight. Otherwise we were just OK."

The Wranglers appeared to have shifted into cruise control when they took a 6-2 lead off a power play goal by Shawn Limpright with 8:35 remaining in the game.

That lack of focus allowed the Condors (14-25-6) to bury three goals in nearly two minutes to move within one goal of the tie at 6-5.

Although too close for comfort, the Wranglers did ultimately hang on for the victory. The Wranglers closed their seven-game home stand 4-2-1.

"It's a mental thing," Neiszner said. "We have to protect leads and play better in the third period. We took that lead and we want to put teams in a stranglehold, and we let up. They are a momentum team and as soon as they get one, they just keep coming at you. You have to weather the storm and give it back to them."

Stars of the game: 1. Mick Lawrence (1 goal, 2 assists); 2. Justin Taylor (1 goal, 2 assists); 3. Shawn Limpright (1 goal, 1 assist)

Going streaking: Wranglers forward Adam Miller now leads Las Vegas against Bakersfield with nine points in seven games against the Condors thanks to an assist on Mick Lawrence's second period goal.

Miller now has 10 goals and 23 assists in 40 appearances with the Wranglers.

Attendance: A sparse 2,757 fans witnessed the Wranglers play the Condors at the Orleans Arena Monday night.

Taco time: Whenever the Wranglers score five or more goals at home, all fans in attendance receive a free taco from Del Taco. The Wranglers fed their fans in the second period Monday and have now hit the taco tally six times this season.

No word on when Treasures is going to give something away for free.

Next up: The Wranglers head to Victoria for a four-game series with the West Division leading Salmon Kings (29-12-4) that begins Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. at the Save on Foods Memorial Centre. The Salmon Kings are second in the ECHL with 62 points behind the Florida Everblades (31-9-2), who have 64.

"It's going to be close hockey," Neiszner said about the road trip. "We have to go up there and play our best hockey obviously… It brings out the best in you to play the best teams. It's the second half of the season and what better way to do that then to play one of the top teams in their rink?"

Final word: "I could have lived with the 6-4 game because we didn't outplay them," Gulutzan said. "But goal five was a weak, weak play."

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

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