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October 25, 2014

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Wranglers a step closer to postseason seeding after win over San Francisco

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STEPHEN SYLVANIE / SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Wrangler defenseman Channing Boe trades punches with San Francisco center Jordan Clendinning during a second period fight on Friday night.

Wrangers vs. SF Bulls

Joe Fallon closes his left pad on the puck as Bulls winger Yanni Gourde attempts a five hole shot during the second period of play on Friday night. Launch slideshow »

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It's a projection that you don't need Nate Silver to make. The Las Vegas Wranglers, in all likelihood, will be playing past their last scheduled regular season game on March 29.

It's simple math.

Close to 70 percent of the ECHL teams will make the postseason (16 of 23) with 8 of 9 Western Conference teams getting a run at the Kelly Cup Finals, and the Wranglers entered Friday night's game at Orleans Arena 20 points ahead of the ninth-place team.

Getting in is technically the easy part for the Wranglers, winning it all is now the challenge.

For Las Vegas forward Scott Pitt, who played in the slightly more competitive Eastern Conference last season for the Kelly Cup champion Florida Everblades, the key to getting back to the championship series is all about finding momentum at this point of the season.

"This is the time of year where you want to start winning, and getting that good feeling in the locker room," said Pitt, who tallied an assist in the Wranglers 2-1 victory over the San Francisco Bulls.

The teams in the West understand that teams that they are essentially playing for seeding, unless you're Bakersfield, who is chasing San Francisco (21-30-1-6) for the eighth seed.

That's irrelevant to Las Vegas' Robbie Smith, who, like Pitt, wants to see his team play well entering the postseason, and added the Wranglers haven't scratched the surface of what they're capable of.

Moving up the standings might not be so easy.

The Wranglers (29-23-2-3) sit behind the West-leading Alaska Aces and Pacific Division leaders Ontario by pretty big margins (27 and 20, respectively entering Friday), meaning a top-two seed is highly unlikely.

The Wranglers have proven they can go on an extended winning streak (see the nine-game streak they strung together in February), and it will take an equally impressive streak to get out of the 4-5-6 hole and into the No. 3 seed. But even if the Wranglers don't get out of the 4-5-6 seed range, it doesn't make a difference to Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel.

"In our league, the lower seed has the advantage in the playoffs," Mougenel said. "The most important thing for us is the right way, and dictate the play."

Aside from moving one step closer to the postseason, Friday's game was your quintessential Wranglers outing.

The Wranglers spotted San Francisco a goal at the 8:03 mark when Yanni Gourde willed his way into the attacking zone and let loose a one-handed wrist shot that snuck by Joe Fallon.

As is the case in many Wrangler games this season, Las Vegas evened things up when Sean Wiles blasted a shot from the point after receiving a pass from Jamie Fritsch at the tail end of a major penalty.

Adam Hughesman scored the game-winning goal in the second period on a power play. After receiving a pass from Eric Lampe who had beat a defender, making it easy for Hughesman to score.

"It was all Lampe," said Hughesman, who added he took an elbow to the chin late in the third period. "I just tapped it in."

Three stars: 1. Adam Hughesman, Las Vegas (1 goal); 2. Sean Wiles, Las Vegas (1 goal); 3. Yanni Gourde, San Francisco (1 goal).

Up next: In an odd scheduling quirk, the Las Vegas Wranglers will play the Colorado Eagles on Saturday for one game, before returning for another matchup with the San Francisco Bulls. Las Vegas' game against the Eagles is set for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop.

In other news: Nolan Julseth-White was called up to the AHL. He will report to Providence, R.I., where he will play for the Boston Bruins affiliate.

Final word: "The guys embraced (the fighting aspect). It shows the guys care. ... It's not always an easy job. It sucks sometimes." — Las Vegas Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel on players stepping up to replace Adam Huxley's fighting spirit. Huxley is on loan to the AHL's Bridgeport Sounds Tigers.

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

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