Condors can't make most of third-period pressure, fall behind two games to none as series switches to San Diego
BAKERSFIELD, CA - An Ethan Bear blast from the point 5:14 into the third period breathed new life into the Condors down a pair of goals, but the San Diego Gulls were able to secure a 4-1 victory and take a two-game series lead in the AHL Pacific Division Finals on Saturday.
Ryan McLeod notched his first professional point in his first game as a Condor, recording the secondary assist on Bear's one-timer that came off a half-wall feed from Josh Currie.
"It's really fast and physical," McLeod said. "I think the guys really helped me out getting used to the game and they're talking out there. It was an easier transition playing with guys who were always in my ear telling me what to do. It was a good transition I thought."
The pressure from the Condors ramped up late, but a clean Isac Lundestrom wrist shot and an empty netter from Adam Cracknell secured the victory and 2-0 series lead for the Gulls heading back to San Diego on Wednesday.
"They came out hard and we tried our best to respond," Bear, who scored his first of the playoffs, said of the third-period pressure. "They had a two-goal lead and we knew we had to come out hot. We tried to get one in the first ten, then the next ten. That was our plan, but it didn't go the way we wanted to.
"That's the way playoff hockey is. We've got to get one over there, and that's as tight as it gets."
The contest featured a number of personnel changes on both sides brought on by Friday's marathon quadruple overtime opener, including Dylan Wells making 35 saves on 38 shots faced in his first playoff appearance in goal for Bakersfield.
Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft dressed 12 forwards and six defencemen, a one-player change for his side in both departments from Game 1.
"That's a lot to ask of a goaltender - to go in and play in back-to-back games after playing in seven periods less than 24 hours earlier," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. "I thought both goalies did well and gave their teams a chance to win tonight. Then you saw both teams try to insert a few fresh bodies, and I think they had an effect on the game."
Wells needed to be sharp early when the 21-year-old netminder, who went 6-6-0 with a .909 save percentage and 3.04 goals-against average for Bakersfield in the regular season, made two quick saves in succession off a Gulls faceoff 7:11 into the opening frame.
With less than two minutes before the intermission, however, the Gulls got on the board first as Kiefer Sherwood drifted into the slot and redirected Trevor Murphy's point shot.
The lead for San Diego was soon doubled 2:29 on from the second-period restart when Cracknell set up Maxime Comtois with a smart pass that allowed the Gulls forward to notch his second of the series after playing the role of overtime hero in Game 1.
"I don't think we had a lot of juice early in the game," Woodcroft said. "I thought it was fairly close. There were some individual turnover mistakes that led to the goals against, and I think those are controllable. In the end their fourth line scored two goals, and that in my opinion was the difference in the game."
Currie looked to spark his team in the second half of the second period with a crunching hit on Cracknell in the defensive end. The play allowed the Condors to transition quickly, with McLeod putting his first big opportunity an inch wide of the net over the blocker of Kevin Boyle.
Facing a two-goal deficit with 20 minutes to play, the Condors came out firing and were rewarded handsomely.
Bear found the back of the net through traffic in front after Josh Currie put the puck into space for the Ochapowace, Saskatchewan product to tee up from the point. McLeod would record the secondary assist for his first point in the AHL and his young professional career.
"I thought he did a very good job," Woodcroft said of McLeod in his debut. "That's some of those young legs that we were talking about coming in and giving us a boost. As the game wore on, I felt more comfortable giving him more ice time, he factored into a couple of chances for, and he was responsible in his own end. All good signs for a young player coming in to play his first professional game under intense circumstances."
The goal provided a spark on the Condors bench as pressure on the Gulls net reached critical levels. In a melee around San Diego's crease, Boyle went down clutching his head and had to give way in goal for Jeff Glass, who was forced into relief after making 53 saves on Friday.
But against the grain, the Gulls countered and restored their two-goal lead with 5:15 remaining in regulation off a wrist shot by Lundestrom, beating Wells clean on the glove side.
Cracknell iced the puck and the game late with an empty netter to all but secure a two-game lead for the Gulls as we look ahead to Game 3 on Wednesday at the Pechanga Arena in San Diego.
"We're all going to have to play with a big chip on our shoulder," Bear said. "We know how to play. We're a hardworking team and we're very determined. We have to put this behind us, but at the same time we've got to learn from the things we did wrong."