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February 5, 2023

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Third-period flurry gives Wranglers 5-1 win over Ontario

The Las Vegas Wranglers wanted the third period.

One night after watching a third-period lead evaporate into an Ontario Reign overtime win, the Wranglers needed the third period.

And just four minutes into the final frame, they had it.

Mick Lawrence’s goal at the 3:46 mark capped Las Vegas’ furious three-goal run to begin the period. The shorthanded tally put the Reign away for good as the Wranglers split a two-game weekend set at Orleans Arena with a 5-1 victory.

“We have a great transition game right now,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “Fortunately we got a couple lucky bounces, but we’re creating offensive gaps and working harder without the puck.”

Just a handful of games after being paired up, linemates Ned Lukacevic and Jeff Hazelwood each struck for a pair of goals, combining for seven points on the game.

“We’re just trying to stay positive,” Lukacevic said. “We have our confidence, and everyone’s playing well. When it’s like this, it’s easy to play and contagious.”

Lukacevic has now scored in five consecutive games, tying a franchise record set by Dustin Johner in 2004-05.

In those five games, he has scored seven goals and recorded four assists.

“This is probably the biggest streak of my career,” he said. “I’ve never been this hot before.”

In addition to the steady offensive play of center Adam Miller, the recent play by Lukacevic and Hazelwood has given the Wranglers a scoring line to lean on.

“Hazelwood has played awesome for us and I think right now you’re seeing how talented Lukacevic is,” Mougenel said.

“There’s a lot of speed on our line,” Hazelwood said. “It feels good to move the puck and get through the neutral zone fast to get as many offensive opportunities as we can.”

The forward’s goal at the 8:17 mark opened the scoring as the Wranglers continued a recent trend of scoring first, doing so for the 13th time in the past 14 games.

Holding a one-goal lead into the third period, Lukacevic scored on the first shift of the third period — just eight seconds in and assisted by Hazelwood — to get the puck rolling for the Wranglers, who scored three goals in the first 3:39 of the period.

Lukacevic then returned the favor two shifts later as he fed Hazelwood a one-timer left-to-right in front of Ontario goalie Curtis Darling for his second of the game.

“They’ve done great offensively,” Mougenel said. “But we’ve had three other lines that have worked hard and are balanced. Right now, we’re just working well together.”

If the Reign weren’t down and out from the first two goals, then Lawrence’s shorthanded goal a minute and a half after Hazelwood’s definitely floored them.

What started as two-on-two action in the neutral zone quickly turned into a Wranglers three-on-two as Lawrence, who trailed the play, deked around Darling from the right.

The goal was set up when defenseman Jason Krischuk faked a slap shot from the right circle and found Lawrence trailing in the slot. He evaded both defender and goalie for his 12th goal of the season.

Lukacevic added his second goal of the night just past the halfway point of the third period, giving the Wranglers four unanswered goals in the contest.

The only offense Ontario could muster was a late goal by center Jon Francisco, who ruined Michael Ouzas’ shutout with his fifth goal against Las Vegas this season.

“I owed the boys one, so I came out and did it,” he said.

Ouzas was a wall Saturday night, facing the second-most shots he has all season, including a first period in which he was perfect on 17 shots, the most he has seen in the opening period all year.

“He really kept us in it in the third period,” Mougenel said. “And he gave us a chance to win.”

Three stars: 1. Ned Lukacevic (two goals, two assists); 2. Michael Ouzas (41 saves); 3. Jeff Hazelwood (two goals, assist)

Relay For Life: The American Cancer Society fundraiser received a small portion of the ticket revenue from Saturday’s game. People throughout the Orleans Arena wore purple shirts to show their support for the cause.

Attendance report: Las Vegas saw its third largest crowd of the season, with 6,019 fans. It was the third time attendance has passed the 6,000-mark this season.

Heavy hitter: Josh Prudden, for introducing an Ontario forward to the glass, exposing the player’s face the crowd just in front of the camera. Prudden was penalized for boarding on the play.

Up next: Two days off before traveling to Victoria, B.C., for a two-game set with the Salmon Kings.

Final word: “We’re just getting the breaks right now,” Lukacevic said. “But they’re breaks we’re working hard for.”

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