BAKERSFIELD, CA -- Four goals in the final 40 minutes spearheaded a furious rally for the Alaska Aces which fell short in a 5-4 defeat to the Bakersfield Condors, who took a 2-1 series lead in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
The Aces, who nearly twice crawled out of their biggest deficit in the playoffs, earned goals by Tommy Mele, Nick Mazzolini, Jordan Morrison and Turner Elson while Zach Davies chipped in with two assists from the blueline.
Laurent Brossoit made 28 saves to earn the win for Bakersfield, who needed an empty net goal by Chris Collins in the final two minutes to assure victory. Olivier Roy took the loss on 24 saves.
In their first Conference Finals home game in club history, Bakersfield survived an initial offensive wave by the Aces and were spotted three goals in the first period on a series of defensive zone breakdowns, beginning on Andrew Carroll’s deflection at the net at 9:23 while Joel Broda benefited from Roy kicking the puck into his own net at 10:35 for a 2-0 deficit.
Jordan Knackstedt snuck to the right post for his fifth playoff goal with 4:40 left and the Aces trailed 3-0, facing their biggest deficit of the playoffs.
Mele’s third goal of the postseason, 1:43 into the second period cut the deficit to 3-1 when he set a screen at the net and got a piece of Sean Curry’s rocket from the blueline. But Bakersfield responded with a 4-1 lead at 12:20 when a deflected pass went to the tape of Chase Schaber, who buried his fourth goal on the power play while Roy desperately tried to react and cover the blocker side post.
The Aces put their comeback efforts into higher gear when winning an offensive zone faceoff. Davies threw the puck on net and Morrison stashed the rebound at 15:11 for a 4-2 game. Just 1:11 later, Mazzolini, at the right post, finished a beautiful give-and-go play with Evan Trupp off the rush to slice Bakersfield’s lead to one goal.
The Aces even earned a brief 5-on-3 power play, spilling into the final period but failed to capitalize on missed entry passes. Roy’s save of the game, a diving stop on Schaber with five minutes left, was followed by a 2-on-1 that Morrison just missed on a backdoor feed with a rolling puck to Findlay.
Roy was pulled for an extra attacker with a 6-on-5 situation late in the game and Ramage barely missed the net on a laser from between the circles. Collins responded for an empty net goal with 1:10 left, seemingly putting the game out of reach at 5-3. But the Aces swarmed the offensive zone on the ensuing shift and Elson caught Brossoit off the left post, burying his first postseason goal with 15 seconds left for a 5-4 deficit.
The Aces had one last gasp by lobbing the puck into the Bakersfield zone, but ran out of time with a battle into the corner that drained the clock, also generating a furious postgame scrum between the teams.
NOTES: The Aces scratched Brad Richard, Drew MacKenzie, Andy Taranto, Peter Sivak and Ross Ring-Jarvi ... the loss was the Aces’ first on the road in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and also ended a six-game road winning streak which dated back to last postseason … the Aces fell to 8-4 all-time in the Kelly Cup Playoffs vs. Bakersfield … while still seeking their first goal in the first period against Bakersfield, the Aces have combined for five goals in the third period for the Conference Finals.
KELLY CUP PLAYOFFS – WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
GAME 1 - Aces win 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead
GAME 2 - Condors win 3-2 in OT to tie the series 1-1
GAME 3 - Condors win 5-4 to take a 2-1 series lead
GAME 4 - Alaska at Bakersfield, Saturday, 5/24 (Rabobank Arena) – 8:00 PM MST
GAME 5 - Alaska at Bakersfield, Sunday, 5/25 (Rabobank Arena) - TBA *
GAME 6 - at Alaska, Tuesday, 5/27 (Sullivan Arena) - 9:15 PM MST *
GAME 7 - at Alaska, Wednesday, 5/28 (Sullivan Arena) - 9:15 PM MST *
* If necessary