STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Monday, April 16, 2012 | 11:47 p.m.
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.”
The Orleans Arena, a Boyd Gaming facility located just west of the Las Vegas Strip, is one of the nation’s leading mid-sized arenas, and was recently ranked No. 1 in the United States and No. 5 internationally among venues of similar size by Venues Today Magazine.
The Arena hosts more than 200 events each year, including concerts by top names like Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Van Halen, Brooks & Dunn, Black Eyed Peas, Akon and Rihanna; family favorites like The Harlem Globetrotters and Circus Spectacular; and a wide variety of sporting events, including NCAA basketball tournaments, the West Coast Conference and Western Athletic Conference Basketball Championships, mixed martial arts with Superior Cage Combat, and major motorsports events.
The arena serves as home to the Las Vegas Wranglers professional ECHL hockey team, the Las Vegas Legends professional indoor soccer team, and the Lingerie Football League’s Las Vegas Sin. Stay connected to the Orleans Arena on Facebook (www.facebook.com/orleansarena) and on Twitter (@orleansarena).