CONDORS: Bakersfield readies response in Game 3 against San Diego
The Condors look to establish themselves in their Pacific Division Final series with San Diego, down 2-0 to the Gulls
SAN DIEGO, CA - It's a Game 3 roll call for the Bakersfield Condors.
The 2019 AHL Pacific Division Final shifts to southern California tonight, with the Condors keen to answer the rallying cry on the road down two games to none in Game 3 against the San Diego Gulls at Pechanga Arena.
You can watch tonight's game on AHL Live or listen on Fox Sports 970 AM.
Throughout the regular season and playoffs, Bakersfield has received a steady dose of leadership from veterans Brad Malone, Josh Currie and captain Keegan Lowe, while injecting youth through the likes of Tyler Benson all season and recent arrivals Evan Bouchard and Ryan McLeod.
Responding to early adversity in Round 2 starts from the top before filtering down through the lineup to create a cohesive and decisive group that Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft believes is ready to answer the call.
"I like our group," the Bakersfield bench boss said Wednesday afternoon. "Our response is typically headed from our leadership. We have solid human beings that like to do it right on and off the ice. We're led by Keegan Lowe, Josh Currie, Brad Malone, Joe Gambardella, Patrick Russell, and Ryan Stanton. These guys are laying it on the line putting everything they can into ensuring our team has success. When they do that, the foot soldiers and younger players fall in line.
"I think our team has responded to adversity all year, we have tools to get out of tough situations, and we're going to need all 20 players pulling on the same rope here. It's all 20 for a full 60 and maybe beyond tonight, and we're looking for a big effort."
Scoring chances have been at a premium in the 10 periods of action in the first two games that included a quadruple-overtime thriller in Game 1, the fifth-longest game in AHL history.
A cagey, hard-checking series has the Condors bullish on their consistent approach and ability to respond despite a two-game disadvantage on the road, where they were the top team in the Pacific Division on the road in the regular season at 21-11-0-1.
"We're not going to do anything different," Gambardella, who has one goal in the series, said pre-game. "We know where we stand in the playoff series right now, but we've got to do everything that's worked up to this point in the season. We know the character and the group we have in that locker room and we feel good where we're at right now. We're ready to respond."
Shane Starrett returns in goal for the Condors tonight after making 53 saves on 56 shots in the marathon of Game 1 and giving way for Dylan Wells in Game 2, which came less than 19 hours after the opener ended five hours and 10 minutes after puck drop.
The Bellingham, Massachusetts product has a 1.99 goals-against average and .919 save percentage with a record of 3-2-0 in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
"In order to have the numbers he's had and the success he's had, that requires a certain type of mental strength to be prepared for those types of situations," Woodcroft said of his netminder. "He's been the backbone of our team all season, and we'll need a big effort from him tonight. He's physically and mentally refreshed, and we're excited to see him play."
Ryan McLeod made an immediate impact in his AHL debut in Game 2, recording the assist on Ethan Bear's third-period goal, and gives the Condors a different look at centre on the second line tonight alongside Tyler Benson and Josh Currie.
It will be an elevated workload for the 19-year-old, but one Woodcroft is excited to deploy at a regular rate tonight in hostile territory.
"He's a big body who skates well through the middle and showed well in the one game that he has played," Woodcroft said of his newest addition to the lineup. "We're looking for that group to be able to contribute at both ends of the rink. They're going to see a lot of ice time tonight, and we're excited to see them play."
McLeod rounds out a well-balanced line between Benson and Currie that has all the tools to create problems in the offensive zone for the Gulls while managing duties defensively.
"I think all three have the ability to put the puck in the net. All three have the ability to play the entire 200 feet of the rink," Woodcroft continued. "All three have the ability to make an impact on the game. What I like about Tyler is his playmaking ability and his grittiness in the trenches. Currie has provided the offence and been a shooter, and [brings] a little bit of sandpaper and experience on that line. Now McLeod's coming in and getting an opportunity.
Currie, the veteran of the line, believes the rest can take care of itself if he's able to get the puck onto the sticks of his two young teammates after playing a key role winning puck battles in corners.
"Just from practice and the one game I got to play with [McLeod], he's a fantastic hockey player," Currie said. "I'd seen a bit of him at camp, and even then he stood out right away. So I'm really looking forward to it. He and Benson are two exciting young players, so I just have to do my job and give them the time and space by getting the puck on their stick as much as possible and be good on the forecheck. I know those two are going to make plays."
WALKING THE BLUE LINE
Six of Bakersfield's 17 goals in the playoffs have come from the back end, and have played a big role in the club's success throughout the regular-season campaign and postseason.
"I think our D have been a huge part of why we're at where we're at right now," Woodcroft said.
Woodcroft has elected to dress an extra rearguard in previous games with the increased production from his blueliners, giving his forwards extra allowances in transition and the offensive zone with the assuredness he's felt at the back.
"We've been the benefactors of good health, continuity, and great play," he continued. "All six that are in the lineup, sometimes seven, they all find a way to contribute at both ends of the rink, they move pucks quickly, they defend fast and hard, and they've done a really nice job through the regular season and also the playoffs of getting their shots through from the point and allowing our forwards to get physical on offence and get around the blue paint."
A heavy checking approach early in this series from both both sides begins in the defensive zone, but translates further up the ice for the Condors by keeping the puck off the sticks of the Gulls. Checking, for the Condors, extends further than physicality.
"Teams win, and good checking teams win," Woodcroft said. "When I say checking, that doesn't mean just sitting back in a defensive shell. It means possessing the puck, spending more of your time in the other teams' end.
"Let's face it - playoff hockey is a turf war for zone time. The quicker we can get in and establish possession in the offensive zone, the better it is for us because that means the puck is 200 feet away from our net. We feel we can do a better job getting physical on offence, protecting pucks, shooting to break the other team down."