STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN
Tuesday, April 9, 2013 | 10:45 p.m.
It’s a common trend in athletics where a coach will challenge a player to step his game up when the team needs him the most.
Prior to Game 4, Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel had a discussion with forward Chris Francis. Mougenel was straightforward with what he was expecting from the Las Vegas native.
“We talked about him being the best player on the ice,” Mougenel said. “He was invisible the first couple of games. ... There were a lot of games (during the season) when Chris Francis was the best player on the ice.”
Francis responded. He scored two goals, including a critical insurance goal early in the third period to help the Wranglers even the series at two, following a 5-2 victory over the Stockton Thunder on Tuesday inside the Orleans Arena.
“(Coach Mougenel) told me he wants me to play my game, and shoot the puck,” Francis said. “I just got more involved. I went out there, hit the body and being more involved with the game. I wanted the puck more.”
The two teams meet again at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Orleans Arena with control of the series on the line.
Even though Las Vegas lost the first two games of the series, the Wranglers were in control of those games as well before faltering late in each of the games in Stockton, Calif.
The Wranglers had their struggles early on in games throughout the regular season, rarely scoring the first goal of the game. Against the Thunder in the postseason, the Wranglers have scored first in every game.
In fact, Las Vegas has never trailed in regulation as the two games it lost against Stockton came in overtime.
“It’s really two bounces in Stockton,” Mougenel said. “That’s what it was. We’re very evenly matched teams. It can go anyone’s way.”
Given how the last two games have gone, it’s conceivable that the Wranglers could have finished off the series Tuesday had the results in Stockton gone differently.
“We could have swept them,” Francis said. “A little adversity never hurt anyone. We played really good these last two games, and if we do our job tomorrow, and take one up there.”
Per what has become the series norm, the Wranglers came out buzzing around the net.
Las Vegas scored three goals on nine shots in a 10-minute span, prompting Stockton coach Matt Thomas to pull starting goalie Olivier Roy in favor of Tyler Bunz.
The switch must have done something to spark the Thunder because a minute later, they scored their first goal of the game. Stockton cut the lead to one at the 17:33 mark.
“It was really important to come out and make a statement,” Francis said of the fast start. “We let up for about 10 minutes.”
Francis solidified his status as the “best player on the ice” early in the third period, when he scored his second goal of the night, giving Las Vegas a much-needed two-goal lead.
“(Being the best player is) just about being responsible,” Francis said. “You have to manage and make good choices with the puck and just play hard.”
Three Stars: 1. Chris Francis, Las Vegas (2 goals); 2. Judd Blackwater, Las Vegas (2 assists); 3. Matt Cantin, Las Vegas (1 goal).
Up Next: Game 5 is Wednesday night at the Orleans Arena. Game 6 will take place 7:30 p.m. Friday in Stockton. An if-necessary Game 7 would take place 4 p.m. Sunday.
Final Word: “Geoff Paukovich doesn’t get a lot of accolades. He does a lot of things people don’t see. His body. His face. He does everything with his body, and he’s done that every single game.” ― Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel on Geoff Paukovich, who tallied an assist in the win.