Moments after former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson helped rally the crowd at Orleans Arena on Monday night, the Wranglers started their game against Florida in tentative fashion, like so many of Iron Mike's opponents in his prime.
But after weathering an early attack by the Everblades, Las Vegas found its footing and took a 2-0 lead in the second period before holding off a late charge by Florida for a 2-1 victory in front of a white-clad crowd of 5,729 in Game 1 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals.
Game 2 of the best-of-7 series is at 7:05 p.m. today at the Orleans.
"They looked like the Red Army team in the first period," Wranglers coach Ryan Mougenel said. "We just sat back and watched. We didn't match their intensity. We've got to be better."
Las Vegas didn't generate a shot on net until more than 10 minutes into the game, but it cashed in on one of its few first-period chances, taking a 1-0 lead with 6:17 left when Pete MacArthur banged home a rebound of an Eric Lampe shot in front of the net.
"We stayed there hacking and whacking, and it ended up crossing the goal line," MacArthur said. "It was nothing pretty, but it worked."
Lampe scored on the power play with 5:56 left in the second period, jamming the puck inside the post past John Muse, who turned away 21 of 23 shots.
"I just kind of threw it at the net. It looked like it snuck through the side of the net in between his skate and the post," Lampe said. "I guess it was a lucky bounce, but we'll take it."
Florida, which had scored 17 goals in its previous three games and entered as the league's highest-scoring team in the playoffs, finally got on the board with two minutes left.
Mike Ratchuk beat Joe Fallon (32 saves) on a one-timer from Matt Marquardt, taking the pass in stride in the slot.
Las Vegas managed to hold off the Everblades the rest of the way, limiting them to one goal, which tied their playoff low.
"I didn't like the goal we gave up at the end," Mougenel said. "They have a ton of skill in their lineup. I was really impressed with them."
The Wranglers held Florida's potent power play in check, killing four man disadvantages, including a four-minute high-sticking double minor on Mike Madill early in the second period.
"Some teams get going off the power play, but our team gets going off the penalty kill," Mougenel said.
MacArthur, a member of Las Vegas' penalty-killing unit, agrees.
"Our penalty kill's been good all year. We all seem to be on the same page, and when you have Fallon kicking in the pipes, it kind of eases your mind a little bit," he said. "Any time you can kill four minutes, it's huge for the boys and uplifting on the bench."
Las Vegas, gunning for its first ECHL title after losing in six games to Cincinnati in 2008, improved to 12-2 with its fifth straight playoff win.
The Game 1 winner is 70-35 all-time in ECHL best-of-7 series and 16-7 in the league finals.
"It's huge. That's what home ice is all about," MacArthur said of winning Game 1. "We definitely need a better effort. They kind of took it to us tonight for long stretches. They're a real good team. That's why they're in the finals."