It may not be the role Stockton hoped for entering the final week of the regular season, but the heel turn seems to suit the Heat.
Despite a late-season resurgence from a Stockton club that had won five of its last six and eight since the calendar flipped to March, the Heat's path to the playoffs dissipated prior to Stockton's weekend series in Manitoba.
The Moose, a strong home team that has been arguably the hottest club in the AHL since the all-star break, were looking to protect home ice in Winnipeg against Stockton. They were battling for their playoff lives while the Heat had no dog in the fight.
Apparently someone forgot to tell Stockton.
Saturday's showdown was a defensive struggle that saw Manitoba escape with a hard-fought 1-0 win, a game in which Jon Gillies continued his string of stellar play between the pipes with 30 saves on 31 shots.
On Sunday, the Heat offence erupted to the tune of six goals in a 6-2 win, including two markers from Ryan Lomberg, three assists from Glenn Gawdin, Corey Schueneman's first pro goal, and yet another shorthanded tally from the AHL's most dangerous penalty-kill unit.
The visiting team had the lone tally in the first, then rattled off five unanswered scores in the second after Manitoba had briefly tied the game. The onslaught put the game well out of reach and allowed Stockton to throw it in autopilot for the final 20 minutes as Tyler Parsons put a bow on his second-straight strong start, stopping 36 of 38 shots faced on the night. It was Manitoba's 11th home loss of the season in the Moose's final home game of the campaign.
Turning attention to the week's final games, Stockton can't play hero but they can sure play villain.
After two tune-ups against the Ontario Reign, the Heat will have a chance to have the last laugh in a season series with California rival Bakersfield, which potentially will need points heading into the final game of the regular season on Sunday at Stockton Arena.
The Condors had owned that series throughout the majority of the regular season, but last time out it was the Heat who took the fight to the Condors to the tune of a 4-1 drubbing early in March at Stockton Arena.
For a team that will see its season come to an end at the final buzzer, taking a potential division title away from a rival could be all the motivation the Heat need as they look to play the heel one more time.
- The Heat took advantage of great goaltending over the weekend, with Gillies and Parsons combining to stop 66 of 69 shots (.957 SVP) on the weekend.
- Tyler Graovac tied Kerby Rychel for the team lead in goals on the year as he scored his 23rd of the season during the second period of Sunday's game.
- Nolan Yaremko and Noah Philp made their Stockton Heat debuts over the weekend.
- Two of the final three games of the season for the Heat will take place at Stockton Arena - Wednesday against Ontario and Sunday against Bakersfield.
- The five goals scored during the middle frame on Sunday represented the most in a single period this season for Stockton.
- Entering the week with a record of 30-29-4-2, the Heat are looking to lock up their third-straight season with a point percentage above the .500 mark.
"We talked about needing more offence tonight, getting more pucks to the net with traffic involved in that. In the first period we didn't do enough in terms of getting pucks to the net, but second period we came through. Some guys made some good individual plays as well. But the overall theme was right. We got pucks where we needed to get them, we got pucks going to the net, and we had a good run of chances there for a while." - Cail MacLean on Stockton's scoring Sunday
"I thought (Parsons) was really ready to play. He was exceptional in the first period. He found some pucks through traffic. I thought he did a really good job of hanging on to the pucks that came his way. I thought that overall, just sightlines and everything, he was working for it. He was the difference that period." - MacLean on Parsons' play Sunday
"It's special to get your first one. I got it down low, went behind the net, saw (Scott Sabourin) in the slot. I walked it out, they gave me more room than I thought I was going to have, so I took an extra step and put it in." - Schueneman on his first pro goal
"I think our mindset changed. We weren't really happy with how it went (on Saturday), we thought we should've won it, obviously a one-goal game and we were in it the whole time. We got a good start tonight, we came out strong in the second, after that we had the momentum and that was the game." - Gawdin on the team's win Sunday
"(Parsons) was unreal. He made key saves at key times. It's kind of every game he's making big saves. He's riding a wave of confidence and we love having him in the net." - Gawdin on Parsons' play in win over Manitoba