Thunder Hoping to Stave Off Elimination
The #7 Stockton Thunder host the #6 Bakersfield Condors in Game 5 tonight at Stockton Arena with their backs up against the wall, facing elimination in every remaining Western Conference Semifinals game remaining as the Condors are just one win away from advancing to face the Alaska Aces in the Conference Finals.
Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. with Stockton Arena doors opening at 6:30 and the Silver Bullet Bar serving cold and refreshing Rough & Ready Irish Red to those 21-years of age and over, beginning at 5:30.
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The Thunder are in desperation mode after falling behind in the series three games to one by the hands of their Highway 99 rival the Bakersfield Condors, putting the Thunder on the brink of elimination which they must stave off tonight at Stockton Arena in order to take the series back to Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield and do the same thing Tuesday and Wednesday to complete the comeback.
This series has been about quality goaltending from both teams with Brian Foster in net for the Thunder and Laurent Brossoit for the Condors. Both Foster and Brossoit have played every postseason game for their teams and both have posted great numbers with Brossoit narrowly edging Foster’s 2.02 goals-against-average and .930 save-percentage with his 1.62 goals-against-average and .940 save-percentage.
After surrendering the tied most goals he’s allowed all season in Game 3 with five, Brossoit rebounded for the Condors to put in a 29 save performance, allowing only one goal, and keeping his team in the game after the Thunder took the lead midway through the second period.
That Thunder goal began all the way back in their own defensive end after the Condors had caught the Thunder on their heels, but it would be Foster who made an amazing save with his blocker that would unleash Stockton through the neutral zone with numbers.
Former Condor Nick Tremblay started the breakout and fed across the ice to winger Alan Quine who carried over the zone with only a single defender back for Bakersfield.
As the defender went prone in the attempt to block the shot, Quine sauced the puck past the defender right onto the stick of defenseman Marc Cantin who had jumped up into the play, and the big defender would make the Condors pay as he one-timed the shot past Brossoit for the 1-0 lead.
The Thunder had the lead for more than a period of play but the Condors finally caught a break when at the 12:01 mark, Cantin was sent to the box for holding a Bakersfield player’s stick. Just eight seconds into the man-up opportunity, Bakersfield captain Joel Broda rifled a shot initially stopped by Foster, but the goaltender wasn’t aware the rebound came out to his right where Jordan Knackstedt would put the puck on his forehand and tie the game up with Foster out of position.
The Thunder battled hard after Bakersfield tied the game up but the Condors began to play with confidence, and with a little less pressure to score. With the clock winding down it certainly looked like the game was destined for overtime.
However it would never get to that point as the Thunder attempted to release on the breakout with under two-minutes to go in the third.
A pass up ice was held in at the Thunder blueline by Broda who turned and released a well-placed wristshot low blocker-side on Foster, beating the goaltender and capturing the lead with just 1:39 left on the clock.
Stockton had one last great effort on net after pulling Foster in favor of the extra attacker but Brossoit continued his steady play right to the final whistle and the Condors took a commanding series lead by winning 2-1.
The come from behind victory will certainly boost the Condors who need to win one of the next three games to advance, but for the Thunder it will be a point that will cause them disappointment.
Last night’s game was the second lead they gave up in this series as they ended up losing Game 1 in Bakersfield after having the 2-0 lead. Somehow Bakersfield has found a way to squeak back into games they find themselves down in and eventually win.
While the Thunder won’t list any excuses for being behind in the series, missing Jeremy Langlois, Andrey Pedan, Sean Escobedo, Lee Baldwin and now Garet Hunt all to injuries has been a difficult fact to accept.
Langlois is second on the team in points with nine despite only playing in three games this postseason. Pedan played in just the first two games against the Reign and fellow Bridgeport Sound Tiger’s prospect Escobedo went down two games later playing in the entire first round but missing the Semifinals.
Both Baldwin and Hunt would start the series against the Condors but the defenseman would go down in Game 2 and the captain a game later.
Despite being down to the league minimum 16 dressed skaters and 2 dressed goaltenders, the Thunder have continued to play good, exciting hockey.
Filling in for Langlois on the first line with team leader in points Joey Martin and Andrew Clark has been Ryan Hayes while James Henry has found himself trying to replicate what fellow former Vancouver Giant, Hunt, brings game in and game out.
As for the blueline, Ryan Constant, Scott Langdon, Landon Oslanski and Cantin have logged big minutes for the club but the contributions by Ben Rosen and Mathieu Gagnon on the back end cannot be overstated.
The converted forward Rosen, who did have to play some of his time on the blueline this season, has filled in as a solid defensive partner to Constant, blocking shots and contributing offensively. The former Boston University Terrier had 6 goals and 9 assists during the regular season and has gone near a point per game in the postseason, having three helpers in just four games.
As for the former Shawinigan Cataracte Gagnon, he has seen limited time on the blueline this season, filling in for the Thunder on the defensive side when there was a rash of injuries to the defense in March for just a couple games. However, the Montreal, Quebec native has served as a defenseman in both postseason contests he’s dressed in.
Gagnon like Rosen is a converted defenseman to forward but with the Thunder losing three defenseman, Coach Rich Kromm was forced to put the big enforcer on the blueline and while there seemed to be some early nerves in Game 3, Gagnon has really stepped into his own playing on a pairing with Cantin, showcasing that he isn’t a one-trick pony, but a player capable of filling in anywhere.
The Thunder will have to wade through all the injuries, and not dwell on last night’s loss if they hope to come back and win this series. If the Thunder can comeback, they’ll be forced to go on a three game win streak which will have to start tonight in front of a raucous crowd at Stockton Arena.
History shows that coming back from a 3-1 series deficit is difficult for the Thunder as the team is 6-7 in elimination games all-time and have never come back to win in three previous series where they find themselves down three games to one. The Thunder will have to go against the grain and buck that trend if they have any hope of staving off elimination and living to fight another day.
If the Thunder should win, Game 6 will be on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. in Bakersfield.