Bulls lose as playoff hockey returns to SF

COW PALACE — Surely you noticed the gorgeous spring temperatures we enjoyed this week seemed to drop overnight.

That was your reminder that playoff hockey was back in The City, as the San Francisco Bulls took on the Alaska Aces Thursday night for Game 3 of the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs.

In the first playoff hockey game at the Cow Palace since April of 1996, the visiting Aces would skate to a 4-1 victory over the Bulls in front of a meager 2,276 fans.

It would be a rough-and-tumble defensive battle in the first period, with the fete would remaining scoreless through the first 20 minutes of play.

Seconds into Alaska’s first power play opportunity, Kris Belan’s stick would break, and he would throw himself on the ice in order to block shots for nearly two minutes.

Bulls goaltender Thomas Heemskerk would be dynamic, keeping tricky hops from ending up in San Francisco’s net. Shots would be in favor of Alaska 9-5 after the first period.

The Aces would be the first to get on the board, at 2:58 in the second period. Alaska’s Alex Hudson would get his first goal of the playoffs with a lazy shot that would coast past Heemskerk’s left leg and give the Aces the 1-0 advantage.

Alaska would widen the deficit at 6:38 with a goal from Steve Ward — also his first of the playoffs — to put the Aces on top 2-0.

Not seconds after Alaska scored, Belan dropped his gloves and took out some of the Bulls’ aggression on Evan Trupp. Both would go to the box to cool off for five minutes.

San Francisco worked the rest of the period to get the jump on Mark Guggenberger — including a wild flurry of shots with 3:30 left — but could not capitalize on their chances.

Heemskerk and the Bulls’ defense would try to fend off the opposition in the third period, but a bad hop on a shot by Alaska’s Nick Mazzolini would get past the goalie’s glove at 6:33, putting the Bulls in a 3-0 hole.

Refusing to suffer a shutout, the Bulls’ lines would kick it into high gear, applying serious pressure in the Aces defensive zone.

Skating into the blue paint from behind the net, Jordan Morrison would get the puck and fire a rebound for his first goal of the playoffs, putting the home team on the board, 3-1. Peter Sivak and Christian Ouellet would tally assists.

With less than a minute left in regulation — and the Bulls heavily occupying Alaska’s zone — Heemskerk would be pulled to put an extra skater on the ice.

The move would prove unlucky, as Alaska’s Zach Harrison would get a break and chip the puck into the empty net to seal the Bulls’ 4-1 loss.

But fear not, hockey faithful. Playoff hockey continues tomorrow at the Cow Palace for Game 4. The puck drops at 7:15 p.m.