Saturday, March 27, 2010 | 12:06 a.m.
The Las Vegas Wranglers started their most important series of the year the same way they have finished the past month — by coming back.
Unfortunately, their comeback efforts were spoiled in a shootout, when Stockton’s Oren Eizenman beat Las Vegas goaltender Jimmy Spratt for a 3-2 victory.
Fortunately, the team’s third-period comeback erased what would have been a two-point swing in Stockton’s favor.
“I liked how we responded, but I didn’t like our start,” head coach Ryan Mougenel said. “That’s getting our legs underneath us after a nine-hour bus ride, but the way they came back was commendable.”
Heading into Friday night’s game, the two teams were tied in the National Conference points standings with 69 apiece. The shootout victory gives Stockton a one-point edge going into the middle game of a three-game series.
“Overall, I was happy with our play,” Mougenel said. “We worked hard to get it to a shootout, where anything can happen.”
The Wranglers fell behind 2-0 late in the second period after Thunder left-winger Igor Gongalsky scored his 14th goal of the year at the 15:05 mark, assisted by Garet Hunt.
Stockton’s James Bates opened the game with a goal 4:15 into the first period.
But Stockton’s two-goal lead wouldn’t last long, as Wranglers forward Greg Collins scored unassisted just 21 seconds later to cut the lead in half.
“He made a great play to get to the net,” Mougenel said. “It was big. He’s an energy guy and did great for us both ways tonight.”
After a scoreless start to the third period, Wranglers captain Chris Neiszner netted his 14th goal of the season, with 6:25 left on the clock.
The game-tying goal, Las Vegas’ second past Stockton goaltender Andrew Perugini on 21 shots, was assisted by Andrew Orpik and John Schwarz.
The teams skated to a 2-2 tie after the overtime period, where the teams combined for three shots.
Orpik, Jerry Pollastrone and Alex Bourret all came up blank in the shootout, while Stockton’s Kelly Czuy, Matt Marquardt and Eizenman scored successive goals past Jimmy Spratt for the 3-0 shootout advantage and the victory.
“[Jimmy] battled really well,” Mougenel said. “Obviously he wants to get those saves back, those breakaways go 50/50, but I was happy with his play.”
Spratt stopped 34 of 36 shots in the loss and both teams combined to go 0-15 on the power play.
Las Vegas was unsuccessful in seven opportunities.
“Both power plays struggled tonight,” Mougenel said, noting the ice conditions at Stockton Arena. “I thought some of it had to do with the ice, but we’ll get back out there tomorrow.”
Around the league: Alaska 2, Ontario 1; Bakersfield 5, Utah 4; Victoria 1, Idaho 0.
Points standings: 4th place, Victoria (72 points); T-5th place, Stockton and Utah (71); 7th place, Las Vegas (70).