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December 22, 2014

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Wranglers take first game of conference semifinals against Idaho, 3-1

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Peter MacArthur (16) shouts in celebration near the Wranglers bench after assisting on a goal during the second period of play against the Idaho Steelheads on Monday night. MacArthur and teammate Barry Goers were returned to Las Vegas today after an extended stint in the American Hockey League.

Wranglers vs. Idaho playoffs game 1

Goaltender Mitch O'Keefe deflects a first period shot with is blocker during game one of the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Idaho Steelheads on Monday night at the Orleans Arena. Launch slideshow »

After falling behind 1-0 Monday night, the Wranglers rallied back with three unanswered goals to defeat Idaho 3-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals best-of-seven series at the Orleans Arena.

The Steelheads scored the opening goal of the game just over five minutes into the first period on Michael Neal’s third goal of the playoffs.

Neal controlled a centering pass from Jacob Cepis on a breakaway from the top of the circle and lifted the puck over the shoulder of Wranglers goaltender Mitch O’Keefe for Idaho’s lone goal of the evening.

The Wranglers recovered from a slow start in the first period as they scored two goals in a two-minute span in the second period to take the lead for good.

“I thought at the start we looked like we had not played in two weeks,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “We really found our legs in the second period. We started to play the way we need to play to have success, and that’s smart, detailed hockey.”

Shortly after the referees blew a call on a blatant goal by Wranglers left wing Josh Lunden in which replays showed the puck went into the back of the net, center Scott Campbell scored on a breakaway shorthanded goal to even the score.

“I thought the guys responded really well after the nongoal. They always do,” Mougenel said. “They’re a mature bunch. They played well, but we still have a lot of work to do. That’s a good team over there.”

Less than two minutes later, the Wranglers took the lead for good when Mike Madill scored on a rebound goal from a Judd Blackwater shot that deflected off the pad of Steelheads netminder Jerry Kuhn.

O’Keefe, who improved to 4-0 in the playoffs with the win, made a key stick save with less than four minutes to go in regulation to preserve the 2-1 lead.

Campbell clinched the victory with his second goal of the night on an empty netter with 38.3 seconds to play. Ryan Weston and Jeff May were credited with assists on the Wranglers third unanswered goal of the game.

“It was a huge win,” Campbell said. “We’ve been off for a few days and to get the first one is huge. Definitely getting the first one is the toughest. Now going forward it always that next game that becomes the biggest game of the season. That’s what we’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”

Stars of the game: 1. Scott Campbell (two goals); 2. Mike Madill (go-ahead goal); 3. Mitch O’Keefe (17 saves).

Lots of shots: Las Vegas outshot Idaho 46-18, including a 37-12 margin in the final two periods. Blackwater led the way with 10 shots on goal, followed by Adam Miller and Campbell who each had six.

MacArthur and Goers return: Wranglers defenseman Barry Goers and left wing Pete MacArthur were released by the American Hockey League’s Lake Erie Monsters today and were in uniform for the Wranglers in Monday’s Game 1 victory.

Next up: The Wranglers host the Steelheads Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. for Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals best-of-seven series. Following Game 2, the Wranglers will travel to Boise for Game 3 at the CenturyLink Arena on Thursday.

Final word: “We’ve got some significant bodies back in the lineup that have been a huge part of our season so far,” Campbell said. “It’s nice to get them back.”

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