Weary Idaho Steelheads fall at home to Alaska

Top-seeded Aces score early and often to take 2-1 series lead.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 6, 2014 

  • STEELHEADS VS. ACES

    Game 1: Idaho 1, Alaska 0 (OT)

    Game 2: Alaska 6, Idaho 4

    Game 3: Alaska 5, Idaho 2

    Game 4: at Idaho, Wednesday

    Game 5: at Idaho, Thursday

    *Game 6: at Alaska, Saturday

    *Game 7: at Alaska, Sunday

    *If necessary

    Idaho home games start at 7:10 p.m.; Alaska games at 9:15. All games on 1350 AM and broadcast on Cable One 17.

— Brad Ralph could see it in the way his team skated in the second period, in his players' inability to make easy passes or mount much of an offensive push.

"We're a tired hockey team," Ralph said Monday night after Idaho dropped Game 3 of their ECHL Kelly Cup Western Conference semifinal series to the top-seeded Alaska Aces, 5-2, at CenturyLink Arena.

"We struggled just to make the simplest of plays. When you're tired, you're decisions are everything. We struggled with our decisions."

Alaska leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 with Game 4 on Wednesday night in Boise.

The Steelheads won the longest game in ECHL history on April 28 to clinch their quarterfinal series with Colorado. But that long night, coupled with travel back and forth to Anchorage for the first two games of this series, have appeared to sap them of their energy.

Goalie Josh Robinson, who blanked Alaska in Game 1 and did not play in Game 2, allowed a goal off a two-on-one rebound just 1 minute, 55 seconds into Game 3. Robinson had not allowed a goal in more than eight periods, dating to that marathon game against Colorado.

"We hung him out to dry. With a team like that, a skilled team, we can't give them opportunities like that," forward Justin Mercier said of the early odd-man advantage.

Idaho tied the game on a power-play goal by defenseman Charlie Dodero, whose big shot from the point got past Alaska goalie Gerald Coleman. It was Dodero's first goal of the postseason, and Idaho's fourth goal in 23 power-play opportunities.

Alaska grabbed the lead for good with two goals in the second period. Sean Curry beat Robinson between his legs during four-on-four play less than 4 minutes into the period. Brendan Connolly made it 3-1 with a goal off a nifty pass from Kevin LaFranchise with 12:54 left.

"We looked exhausted. It was hard to mount any momentum," Ralph said. "They had a little more life than we did."

Idaho had a goal waived off later in the period, when it appeared Mercier whacked a loose puck past Coleman. The goal light went on, and Mercier threw his arms up in the air. But referee Pierre Lambert ruled the whistle had blown before the puck crossed the line.

That no-goal loomed large when Idaho rookie William Rapuzzi scored to make it 3-2 with 2:14 left in the period. Rapuzzi's goal came off an excellent pass from Luke Judson.

"We had a great opportunity to be in a game when we didn't have our best," Ralph said.

But that chance didn't last long. Brett Findlay beat Robinson with a shot just inside the post to make it 4-2. Minutes later, Alaska scored on a 5-on-3 power play to salt it away.

"The fourth goal was a backbreaker," Ralph said. "Josh needs to make that save."

Robinson entered the game having stopped 257-of-266 shots this postseason, both ECHL highs. He led the league with a .966 save percentage entering Game 3. Robinson played his worst game of the playoffs.

"With resting him in Game 2, we needed him to step up and have a game for us and it didn't happen. He's just like anyone else, they're not going to have their best every night," Ralph said.

The Steelheads' frustration mounted late in the game. Idaho took two late penalties, including a slashing call with 39 seconds left by Anthony Nigro, who was playing his first game of the postseason after missing the first eight with an injury. Nigro had no shots on goal, but just missed a goal midway through the third when he couldn't redirect a pass into an open net.

As a result, the Steelheads find themselves in familiar territory. Idaho trailed Colorado 2-1 through three games - winning the first and losing the next two - in the quarterfinals before winning the next three games to advance.

"We were in this exact same position last series," Mercier said. "We haven't played our best this series so far. Fortunately for us, we are only down one game. By no means are we out of this series."

Brian Murphy: 377-6444, Twitter: @murphsturph

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