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October 21, 2014

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Postseason plans coming together for Wranglers

Las Vegas, which lost 3-1, to host three games in ECHL Playoffs

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Sun

Mitch O’Keefe taps the hands of fans as he is announced as the starting goaltender for Las Vegas as they hosted the Utah Grizzlies on Saturday night.

Wranglers vs. Grizzlies: March 23, 2013

Las Vegas netminder Mitch O'Keefe deflects a shot over the top of the net with his blocker during the second period of play against the Utah Grizzlies on Saturday night. Launch slideshow »

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The Las Vegas Wranglers’ playoff plans are slowly coming together.

Following a 3-1 loss Saturday inside the Orleans Arena against the Utah Grizzlies, the Wranglers have three games remaining in the regular season, and are firmly stuck in the 4-5-6 seed range, meaning they will play either Stockton or Idaho in the first round of the ECHL Western Conference playoffs.

While the seed and opponent are still up in the air, the schedule is set.

Due to arena availability, Las Vegas will play host to Games 3 and 4 on April 8 and 9. The Wranglers would host a fifth game if necessary April 10.

“It’s playoff time,” Las Vegas center Eric Lampe said. “You have to get into that mindset, and you have to work. Whatever happens, happens. We have to get on the right track.”

Just because the schematics of the postseason are coming together, the Wranglers still have work to do.

Las Vegas (34-30-5) has found some good play recently, winning five of its last seven games, and has been solid throughout the second half of the year.

Any struggles are amplified because of constant player movement.

Las Vegas is in the process of finding a way to work in new players to make up for players currently in the American Hockey League. The Wranglers have three players on loan in the AHL, and their returns, while likely, are never guaranteed.

Some faces that went up to the AHL such as Lampe, Adam Huxley, Nolan Julseth-White and Adam Hughesman have all returned just in time for the Kelly Cup push.

“It’s part of the business,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said of having to bring in players to replace the ones called up. “We’re dealing with our own lineup issues.”

Hughesman and Lampe made their presences felt 22 seconds into the second period, as Lampe scored while Hughesman was awarded with the primary assist on the power play opportunity to take a quick 1-0 lead.

“We were just moving the puck around,” Lampe said. “Hugey took it to the net, and the puck was just standing there. I was in the right spot and put it in.”

The lead was short lived as 52 seconds later, Utah scored on a power play of its own when Colin Vock evened the game.

Each team had plenty of opportunities to score goals, combining for 43 shots. Even though the teams were reeling off shots, the game lacked flow, slowed by 13 penalties (with three fights) and many play-stopping saves made by the respective goalies.

The Grizzlies were shorthanded eight times, killing off seven of the penalties, which is not bad considering Utah is one of the league’s worst in penalty kill.

“The PK was outstanding tonight,” Utah coach Kevin Colley said. “Our PK has struggled all year, and to allow one out of the eight, it’s an outstanding job. That’s the comittment of the guys.”

Utah made the Wranglers pay for an inability to score with the man advantage.

At the 6:08 mark in the third period, Brekley Scott found the around the crease and banged the puck past Las Vegas goalie Mitch O’Keefe, giving the Grizzlies a 2-1 lead.

“We wanted to get a lot of traffic and second and third effort,” Colley said. “It took us longer than I would liked to get to those areas, but better late than never.”

Utah’s Riley Armstrong scored the final goal for the Grizzlies (27-29-12).

Three Stars: 1. Ben Meisner, Utah (31 saves); 2. Brekley Scott, Utah (1 goals); 3. Eric Lampe, Las Vegas (1 goal).

Up Next: The Las Vegas Wranglers wrap up a two-game set with the Utah Grizzlies 2 p.m. Sunday at the Orleans Arena. Fans will have the opportunity to skate with the Wranglers following the game.

Final Word: “I’m proud of Sean. He has a good future in the game. If you had asked me that a year ago in December, I would have said his career was on life support. I’m proud of how he has progressed.” — Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel on Sean Wiles being called up to the AHL.

Paul Delos Santos can be reached at 990-2416 or [email protected]. Follow Paul on Twitter at twitter.com/pauliedelos.

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