RECAP: Third Period Jackpot

Friday, 03.16.12 / 11:54 PM
By Stockton Thunder Staff

6,017 fans enjoy wild third period, Thunder three goal rally and victory

FINAL STATS: Box score
VIDEO: Highlights and postgame reaction from the locker room
AUDIO: Game Highlights – Thunder Replay

STOCKTON, Calif. – Kevin Baker scored two goals to bookend a three goal rally in a span of 3:55 and Thomas Heemskerk made 24 saves to lead the Stockton Thunder (31-28-5, 67 points) to a 3-1 victory over the Las Vegas Wranglers before a crowd of 6,017 at Stockton Arena on Friday.

The Thunder, who snapped a four game losing skid and kept pace at five points behind Colorado for fourth place in the Western Conference, broke a 1-1 tie on Gabriel Levesque’s eventual game winner with 8:17 left in regulation.

“The guys rose to the challenge tonight,” said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. “(Heemskerk) was awesome. He’s been struggling as of late so for him to be as good as he was, it gave us a great chance to win instantly. When you’re playing a team as lethal as Las Vegas, to keep it 0-0 and have a big third period is what you need from your team at this time of year, especially at home.”

Heemskerk broke a personal three game losing streak and the Thunder improved to 12-4-1 in the last 17 home games.

Donning a special St. Patrick's Day jersey, Gabriel Levesque provided the game winner off a 2 on 1 break. (photo by Sean Blair)

Heemskerk set the tone early on with three key saves to keep the Thunder at a scoreless pace with Las Vegas, despite holding a 12-5 edge in shots in the first period. He first stopped Geoff Paukovich on a 2-on-1 shorthanded break with less than 15 minutes left and then denied Judd Blackwater’s breakaway and rebound follow up late in the period.

Mitch O’Keefe came up with a big save on Jason Morgan’s backhander from close range with 5:11 left in the second period, preserving the scoreless tie through 40 minutes which featured only one power play.

Miller first threatened to break the tie early in the third period but Heemskerk turned the close range chance away. Following a botched breakout by Las Vegas, Max Campbell snuffed out a turnover and set up Baker on a tape to tape centering pass from the right corner, followed by Baker’s one timer that beat Mitch O’Keefe from the slot with 11:14 left in regulation to break the scoreless tie.

Las Vegas then answered on Miller’s 29th goal of the season with 8:51 left remaining, taking Blackwater’s saucer pass in the low slot and burying a wrist shot past Heemskerk’s blocker.

Just 34 seconds later, Levesque pounced on a loose puck at the neutral zone and skated into the Las Vegas end on a 2-on-1 chance with Matt Reber. Using his teammate as a decoy, Levesque moved O’Keefe off the post and stashed a wrist shot to the upper right corner for a 2-1 lead and his eighth goal of the season.

Following a Ryan Weston slashing penalty, the Thunder power play quickly set up off a faceoff win and Matt Foy feathered a pass to Baker at the right circle, who buried his second goal of the game on another one timer for a 3-1 Thunder lead with 7:19 remaining.

O’Keefe took the loss with 29 saves in his first appearance at Stockton Arena since Mar. 20, 2010 with Utah.

NOTES: Scratched for the game were Tony DeHart (injured reserve), Sebastian Owuya (injured reserve), and Nathan Deck (injured, day to day) … the Thunder invited fans to partake in the fourth annual “Easy Being Green” eco-friendly event in the concourse of Stockton Arena – the event concludes after tomorrow’s game against Utah … the Thunder sported special green and black colored St. Patrick’s Day jerseys, which will also be worn tomorrow … Levesque’s goal was his ninth point in the last eight games … the Thunder earned its first winning record in a season series against Las Vegas (5-4-1).

The Thunder returns to play tomorrow with a 7:30 p.m. home game against the Utah Grizzlies at Stockton Arena. The game will be carried on radio (subject to change) at 1280 AM KWSX and online for viewing (pay-per-view video charge) and listening (free of charge) at www.StocktonThunder.com, courtesy of AmericaOne.

A two-time recipient of the ECHL “Award of Excellence,” Thunder was voted “Best Local Sports Team” by readers of the San Joaquin Magazine, led the ECHL in attendance for four consecutive seasons and drew over 200,000 fans for the sixth consecutive season in 2010-11. Season Tickets for 2012-13 are on sale now. For more information about tickets, merchandise, or other inquiries contact the Stockton Thunder offices at (209) 373-1500 or visit http://www.stocktonthunder.com/.

THREE STARS
1. STK – 71 Kevin Baker
2. STK – 29 Thomas Heemskerk
3. STK – 12 Gabriel Levesque