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December 21, 2014

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Wranglers set to begin playoff journey against Stockton

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Stephen R. Sylvanie / Special to the Sun

Sean Wiles celebrates after scoring a first-period goal on a slapshot from outside the faceoff circle against the Colorado Eagles on Saturday night.

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Music blared from the Las Vegas Wranglers locker room. It’s a common trend after wins, and the Wranglers have been doing a lot of it recently, having won six of their last seven games.

Las Vegas is finding some semblance of form at the right time, giving hope that the Wranglers can make another run at the Kelly Cup.

The No. 5 seed Wranglers’ open the ECHL Playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday in Stockton, Calif., for a best-of-seven series against the No. 4 Stockton Thunder.

“The locker room is real good,” Wranglers forward Sean Wiles said. “Momentum is a big thing, and we’ll take as much as we can get.”

Like many 4-5 matchups, the difference between Las Vegas and Stockton is marginal heading into Game 1.

Both teams enter the postseason on winning streaks. The Thunder have won four in a row, while the Wranglers have won three in a row and four of their last five.

The teams split the regular season series (4-4) with three games going into overtime or shootout. The Wranglers won all games with an extra session.

“I know (Stockton coach) Matt (Thomas) and his teams are going to be prepared, and we’re going to be extremely prepared,” said Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel, who got his first coaching break thanks to Thomas. “They’re a lot like (Matt’s) personality, and I like to think, my team is an extension of me and the things I value.

“We probably both have the same philosophy of teams playing the right way. It’s going to be a battle, a war.”

The Wranglers boast one better backlines in the ECHL. Las Vegas allowed 2.67 goals per season, which ranked in the top 10 in the ECHL.

“We have the best defensemen in the league,” said goalie Joe Fallon, who allowed 14 goals in six games against Stockton. “Definitely better than last year, hopefully we can keep them off the board and frustrate some teams.”

While the defense has been consistent, the offense has been a roller coaster ride.

The Wranglers scored 196 goals in the regular season. Only one team in the ECHL playoffs has scored fewer goals than Las Vegas, meaning the Wranglers will need to find offense if it looks to return to the finals.

The forward line featuring Wiles, Andrew Sarauer and Scott Pitt has been arguably the best offensively for Las Vegas. It’s a trio that Mougenel will call upon at times to spark offense.

Sarauer is the team’s leading goal scorer with 21, while Pitt has a team-best 41 assist.

“We like playing together,” said Wiles, who was loaned to the AHL for a few games this season. “We know where we are in certain situations because we’ve been through many. When things are going they’re going.”

The first two games will be played in Stockton on Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and 4 will take place in Las Vegas on Monday and Tuesday, respectively.

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

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