With four weeks remaining in the regular season, three teams will be battling it out for the final two playoff spots in the National Conference. The Las Vegas Wranglers, Utah Grizzlies and Ontario Reign are tied with 59 points apiece, with Las Vegas and Utah having 14 games remaining, and Ontario with 13 games left.
The Wranglers and Reign played a three-game series in Ontario over the weekend with all three games decided in a shootout. In the opener on Friday, Las Vegas prevailed in a wild 7-6 affair in which the Wranglers scored four goals in the third period, including three in a seven-minute span midway through the frame, to force extra time. Ned Lukacevic scored the final two goals of regulation and Jerry Pollastrone scored in the 12th round of the shootout to give the Wranglers the lead, while Las Vegas goaltender Joel Gistedt stopped Ontario’s Tony Voce to preserve the victory.
Las Vegas came from behind once again on Saturday with three goals in the third period, including the tying goal from Pollastrone with just 19 seconds remaining to force overtime. Jon Rheault, who just returned to the Reign from a three-month stint with Manchester of the AHL, scored the only goal of the shootout to ensure the Reign would walk away with two points.
During the finale on Sunday, it was Ontario forcing overtime, getting a goal from Rheault midway through the third period to tie the game 3-3. Lukacevic scored the lone goal in the shootout, while Gistedt stopped all five Reign shooters to lift the Wranglers to the 4-3 win.
Las Vegas has fared well against Ontario this season, posting an 8-0-3 record, with the two teams facing off in the final three games of the regular season at Orleans Arena on April 1, 2 and 3.
The Wranglers continue their road trip on Tuesday with the first of two games against Bakersfield, before opening a six-game homestand on Friday hosting the Condors and Alaska for three games each. Friday’s game begins a season-ending stretch where the Wranglers play nine of their final 12 games at home, where the team is 17-8-2. Meanwhile, Ontario travels to Alaska on Wednesday for a three-game series.
Utah dropped two games at Alaska last week and hosts Stockton for a three-game series at The E-Center beginning on Friday. The Grizzlies have won six of their last seven games at home and are 16-12-2 overall on home ice this season. Utah has two of the top five scorers in the league with Ryan Kinasewich ranking third with 76 points (33g-43a) and A.J. Perry fifth with 66 points (22g-44a). Following this weekend’s homestand, the Grizzlies play eight of their final 11 games on the road.
Las Vegas, Ontario and Utah are all two points behind fifth-place Alaska and three points in back of fourth-place Stockton. Only eight points separate the three teams from second-place Bakersfield.