Aces outlast Bulls in high scoring playoff game

COW PALACE — San Francisco was Heartbreak City on Friday night. And no, we aren’t just talking about the Giants late 4-3 loss to the Chicago Cubs earlier in the day.

The San Francisco Bulls would do some serious battle against the rival Alaska Aces in a match-up consisting of the most aggressive 60 minutes of play we’ve seen from the Bulls all season.

But despite the tenaciously-played hockey and a third period rally from a three-point deficit, the Bulls would fall just short in Game 4 of the ECHL Playoffs, 6-5.

Team captain Scott Langdon was candid about the hard-fought, come-from-behind style of play that his team displayed, particularly at the end of the game:

“We don’t quit, we’re not going to quit, ever. And obviously we don’t like the outcome of that game. Our backs are against the wall. But it’s nice to see that the boys still had enough in the tank there to go at them at the end.”

The home team showed signs of dominance early in the first period, keeping the puck in Alaska territory and putting serious pressure on Thursday’s winning goalie, Mark Guggenberger. Langdon would play a variety of roles, starting the game as a forward and moving back to defense throughout the period, and the remainder of the game.

President and Head Coach Pat Curcio discussed his decision to move Langdon around:

“A week ago I thought we had a healthy hockey club, and a lot of extra bodies. And a week later, I’m sitting here going ‘we have no players.’ And we had to dress seven defensemen. Just wanted to see if we could get Langer on the forecheck and create some energy in the first shift of the game and use him as a rover.”

Then, with 1:42 left in the first, Christian Ouellet and Dean Ouellet–the “Wonderful Ouellets” as a colleague of mine coined them– would coast up the ice, and with Guggenberger’s attention turned to Christian, Dean would get the shorthanded shot past the goalie’s left shoulder.

It would be No.45’s first goal of the playoffs, also his first goal since returning from the AHL, and would give the Bulls the 1-0 advantage.

Alaska tied things up 1-1 early into the second; Bobby Hughes would get a break on the Ace’s power play and throttle the puck past Thomas Heemskerk at 1:55. They would score again at 5:03 when a bad bounce would go in Ace Chris Clackson’s favor at 5:03 to put the opposition ahead 2-1.

The Bulls wouldn’t let the lead stand for long, as Kris Belan would get the rebound from Mark Isherwood and chip the puck past Guggenberger to tie the game 2-2 at 5:25. Christian Ouellet would pick up another assist on the game-tying goal.

But the Aces would retaliate quickly, and Clackson would get the his second goal of the game at 6:29. The third goal would result in a San Francisco goal change, and Taylor Nelson would skate in between the pipes in place of Heemskerk.

After a lot of back and forth, the Bulls would maintain control of the puck and Jordan Morrison would skate up close and get a beautiful, clean wrist shot into Alaska’s net to tie the game 3-3. Brett Findlay would earn and assist.

Curcio said of Morrison post-game:

“There’s a good handful of guys who are going to be San Francisco Bulls next year, and he’s going to be one of them.”

Both offenses would get to work putting pressure on the other teams’ goalie, but it would be Alaska who would benefit from the jolt in play with a shot past Nelson with 1:30 left in the period to put the Aces on top 4-3.

The manic second period of play would end with the Aces ahead by one point, out shooting the Bulls 30-23.

Zach Harrison would get Alaska’s fifth goal of the night at 12:58. They would add insult to injury  with a shot from Hughes that would just skip in past Nelson at 13:40, bringing the score to 6-3.

Instead of rolling over and excepting defeat, San Francisco would push on and rally with less than 10 minutes left to play. With pinball-like precision, Bryan Cameron would feed the puck to Dean Ouellet, who would launch the puck to the back of Alaska’s net, bringing the score to 6-4 at 15:41. Peter Sivak would also earn an assist

Without skipping a beat, San Francisco would regain control of the puck at the face-off and Kory Falite would get a hard-earned goal–what Curcio called a “blue collar goal”– at 16:01 to bring the score to 6-5. Kris Belan would earn an assist, as would Christian Ouellet for his third of the game.

Curcio commented on C-Ouellet’s hungry play and contribution in Friday night’s game:

“He’s a good penalty killer, he’s good on the power play, he good five-on-five, smart player. And you need to make sure you’re using your smarts.”

It would be a nail-biter right up to the final seconds of regulation, with San Francisco continuing to take aim at the Ace’s net. But another tie would not be reached, and the 6-5 score would stand. Alaska ultimately out shot San Francisco 38-34.

Curcio talked about, despite the loss, the positives he saw from the young team Friday night:

“I liked the resiliency. There’s a lot of heart. There’s a lot of character in some of those young lads. That’s a great sign. I think when you have players that don’t want to give up, don’t want to quit, and want to overcome adversities, whether it’s the bad calls–whatever the situations may be. . . To me, that’s important.”

With Game 5 less than 24-hours away and the end of their season on the line, how do the Bulls prepare? Captain Langdon answered:

“Just like every other game. You know, you’ve got to win it. You’re always going to try to win the hockey game. And this is one that we need to win because if we don’t win it, we’re done. Season’s over. But, pressure’s on them now. They’ve got to close us out.”

The San Francisco Bulls host the Alaska Aces for Game 5 of the ECHL Playoffs Saturday, April 13. The puck drops at 7:15 p.m.