J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
It was the only way the weekend could have ended for the Reign and Las Vegas Wranglers.
Tied after regulation and overtime. The tension high from two consecutive shootouts. The smell of bad blood still lingering at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
This time, the game was decided on the stick of the Wranglers' Ned Lukacevic, whose forehand-to-backhand maneuver fooled Mike Zacharias in the fourth round of the shootout and lifted Las Vegas to a 4-3 victory in front of an announced crowd of 5,157.
For two teams that genuinely don't seem to like each other, it was quite a finish.
"I think it's pretty clear there's some bad blood between both our teams," goaltender Curtis Darling said.
"Friday night we got away from our game and things completely unraveled," he said, referring to a 7-6 shootout loss. "(Sunday) was the exact opposite. We didn't take too many penalties and when we did, we just killed it. You didn't see too many guys running around, yelling at the ref, that kind of stuff."
That discipline helped the Reign come back from a 3-2 deficit after two periods and force overtime on a goal by Jon Rheault with 7:25 left in regulation.
Darling made five saves in overtime to finish with 28, then gave way to Mike Zacharias in a shootout for the second consecutive night.
Zacharias, perfect on all five Wranglers attempts Saturday, was beaten only once Sunday. But Las Vegas netminder Joel Gistedt, who entered the game as an injury replacement in the third period, stopped all five Reign shooters to clinch the victory.
The Reign gained a point in the standings for the ninth consecutive game, which accomplished two things.
One, it brought them into a three-way tie (with Las Vegas and Utah) at 59 points in the standings, good for sixth in the National Conference. Two other teams (Stockton and Alaska) are within three points of the Reign and Bakersfield is only eight points ahead for the Pacific Division lead and the No. 2 playoff seed that comes with it.
It also set up a frantic final 13 games, which includes a three-game series in Las Vegas to finish the season.
"(The Wranglers) have gotten points in every game we've played against them," Reign coach Karl Taylor said. "That's not good enough. If we end up tied with them for a playoff spot, they get the nod because they won the season series."
Sean O'Connor and Tim Kraus also scored goals for the Reign and Greg Hogeboom picked up three assists.
Perhaps the most telling stats of the three-game weekend were Mike Egener's 26 penalty minutes. The defenseman collected 10 on Sunday and later did his best to explain the hard feelings between the two benches.
"Something really bothers me about them," he said. "It starts from (a Dec. 19 game) when we came out for the warm-up and they shot pucks at us. It shows what type of team they are. When I'm playing against them, I'm not going to show much respect for them just because of that incident.
"I guess in these types of games you do have to be smart and play between the whistles."