The Condors clinched their first-ever AHL series win with a 5-2 Game 4 victory over the Colorado Eagles
BAKERSFIELD, CA - Oh, the theatrics.
The drama. The emotion.
The skirmishes, the goals.
And of course - because it is The After Party - the celebration.
All of it was evident on Saturday as the Bakersfield Condors achieved a new franchise height in front of a playoff record attendance of 8,120 fans at Rabobank Arena, defeating the Colorado Eagles in Game 4 to move on to the 2019 Calder Cup Pacific Division Final.
Patrick Russell scored the game-winning goal shorthanded at 9:05 of the third period, while Shane Starrett stopped 24 of 26 shots to backstop the Condors to a 5-2 victory.
The Condors begin Round 2 next week against the San Diego Gulls. Stay tuned to EdmontonOilers.com for complete coverage.
"Winning a playoff series, especially in a tense, elimination game like that, is not easy to do," said Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft. "Full credit to the Colorado Eagles, who gave us everything we could handle."
Trailing 2-1 to enter the third period, the Condors scored four goals in the final 20 of play to tie it up then take complete control.
"We've been in that position before," said Joe Gambardella post-game. "I thought that third period was the best period of the series for us."
Evan Bouchard knotted it up at 2:23 on the power play. The 2018 10th-overall selection gave a visual representation of his patented Bouch Bomb, popping Pavel Francouz's water bottle off the net for his second of the playoffs in just his second AHL game.
"He's a difference maker," said Woodcroft.
Then while tasked with killing a delay of game minor, Russell gave the Condors the lead. The Dane one-timed Brad Malone's over-a-stick dish to give the Condors a 3-2 advantage.
Malone doubled it up for Bakersfield less than two minutes later, catching a fortunate bounce in front to net his second goal of the playoffs. The Condors alternate captain finished with a goal and two assists in Game 4 and bagged five points in the series.
"He's somebody that controls our dressing room, along with Josh Currie, Keegan Lowe and Ryan Stanton," said Woodcroft of Malone.
"They determined that we would not be denied tonight."
Luke Esposito capped the match with an empty-net marker as just 53 seconds remained on the clock, bringing the raucous Condors faithful to their feet in excitement.
"That crowd out there tonight was the most amazing thing," said Gambardella. "We were really happy that we were able to give them something to cheer about."
Knowing full-well how important the first goal of the game would be, the Condors orchestrated play after play in the opening frame of Game 4.
There was no shortage of opportunities but Eagles netminder Francouz kept the door shut on them all: Tyler Vesel fanned on a wide-open rebound; Esposito dragged, swirled and shot to no avail; William Lagesson's wrister from the slot was bounced out and each blue paint scramble in the Eagles' zone was covered up by Francouz. Colorado's keeper ended the night with 26 saves on 30 shots.
While Bakersfield sought the opening tally, the Eagles were playing the body. Cooper Marody was crunched twice in the period - first by Mason Greertsen then again by former Condor Kale Kessy - causing the centre to retreat to the dressing room and not return.
The Condors had seen enough by the time Russell was shoved from behind as he was heading to the bench, causing sticks, gloves and helmets to fall to the ice. Condors Captain Lowe squared up with A.J. Greer at centre ice.
"We did a good job of channeling our emotions," said Gambardella. "We came back and we hit them on the scoreboard where it hurts the most."
Tyler Benson captured his first point of the postseason with a perfect aerial pass for Mitch Callahan off the rush. Callahan - replacing the absent Marody - picked up the feed in stride then put it past Francouz with a silky backhander. Benson completed the night with two helpers.
The Condors were able to open the scoring but it was the Eagles who would come out on top after 40 due to a pair of Martin Kaut goals.
The Czech picked off a pass in the Condors' zone and backhanded it glove side on Starrett at 8:16, then with just half a second remaining in the period he tipped a slap-pass to give the Eagles the lead to enter the third.
"We knew we couldn't hit the panic button," said Gambardella. "We still had a whole 20 minutes to play. I thought we did a good job of sitting back, relaxing, taking a deep breath in between periods then coming out in the third period running."
The club will face the San Diego Gulls in the Pacific Division Finals.
"We'll enjoy it now but come tomorrow, it's time to get ready for San Diego," said Gambardella.