CONDORS: Bakersfield embrace elimination mindset ahead of Game 6
Condors face another 'win or go home' scenario in San Diego after Saturday's double-overtime triumph in Game 5
SAN DIEGO, CA - Game 7 mentality.
It came through in a big way for the Bakersfield Condors on Saturday in Game 5, with Josh Currie finding the twine in double overtime for his first goal of the AHL Calder Cup Playoff campaign to stretch this AHL Pacific Division Final to a Game 6 tonight in San Diego.
Facing another elimination game tonight in hostile territory, the Condors know what's at stake. Both sides have fought fangs and talons across 22 periods of hockey this series, including three overtime contests and two that have gone into multiple frames of sudden death.
You can watch tonight's game on AHL Live or listen on Fox Sports 970 AM.
"It's do or die time right now," forward David Gust said from this morning's optional skate at Pechanga Arena. "It's going to be this way for the rest of the series for us, and I thought we played a good lockdown game at home. We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game and defensive-minded, and we knew it was only going to take one or two on both sides."
In a split second, the script of games in this series have been flipped.
"Every game's been closely contested," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. "The difference in games are at the margins. Last game it was one faceoff that ended the game.
"You never know when the most important moment of a hockey game is going to occur. Sometimes it's the first shift of the game, sometimes it's the last shift of the game. The good thing is you get to use the entire 60 minutes, but for us our mindset is that every shift's important, every shift counts, so we're doing our hardest to make sure that we will be ready for every shift we go out there for."
Woodcroft injected a number of fresh bodies into the Condors lineup in Game 5, shaking things up with Jake Kulevich slotting in on defence, Cameron Hebig earning his first postseason appearance, Logan Day moving to wing on the second line, and Stuart Skinner making 45 stops on 46 shots in his first AHL postseason start.
"Resilient," Condors playoff-leading scorer Brad Malone said of his teammates. "We had some big performances from very key players, and I think you're only as good as what you did for us yesterday. Some guys really took some heat on the back and applied it to a clutch game.
"It's a team effort every night, but we have to keep sticking together with a bend, not break kind of mentality."
With numbers at their disposal, the Condors are putting faith in whoever cracks the lineup to follow through and generate a positive reaction much like it did in Saturday night's extra-time contest at Rabobank Arena.
"We got 29 guys and we're confident with whoever's in for any game knowing they can go out and do a job, and I think we showed that the other night," Gust said. "Going through the rest of this series, we're going to be confident with whoever's in the lineup."
It's hard slugging it out when you're down in the mud, and the Condors are in the thick of it.
Down three games to one against the Gulls with every game from here on out in this Pacific final being an elimination game, relying on their consistent approach when games are up in the air is paramount for Bakersfield.
"You look at our season as a whole, we talk about feeling comfortable being uncomfortable," Woodcroft said. "Our term as we call it is 'being comfortable in the mud', and that's when games are in question. It's being comfortable in tight situations, on the boards, in front of the net, at the bluelines, and it's something that we wanted to promote in our group early in our year.
"It's been a key factor in why we're still playing in the middle of May, and we're going to have to embrace that comfortableness and comfortability. We're going to need the going forward in a very competitive Game 6."
Winning on Saturday to put the pressure back on the Gulls heading into Pechanga Arena lifts some weight off the Condors, who will focus in on the finer details with nowhere to go but up facing a 3-2 series deficit.
"I think the big thing for us is we understand where the pressure is," he continued. "The pressure is not on us to close us out, the pressure is squarely on their shoulders in their building. Our focus is having a Game 7 mindset of being ready to play and ready to compete from the drop of the puck.
"Our job is to make sure we do our job. You can't do two jobs out there, you can only do one, and we're asking our guys to do one job and that's their job. When they do their job, trust your teammate is going to do his job. We brought that mindset into Game 5, we're going to bring it into Game 6 and our guys are going to be ready to go."