Condors fall behind three games to one, face elimination after Adam Cracknell's pair lifts San Diego in a 4-2 loss for Bakersfield in Game 4
SAN DIEGO, CA - The San Diego Gulls leveraged home ice and seven power-play opportunities night to take a 3-1 series lead in the AHL Pacific Division Final, defeating the Bakersfield Condors 4-2 in Game 4 at Pechanga Arena.
"I thought the difference in the game was the second period," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said post-game. "I thought our first period was one of our best of the series, we can out and asserted the way we wanted to play, outshot them badly early, but despite controlling the puck all period we ended up on the negative side of the penalty ledger."
The Gulls went 2-for-7 on the power play, with the Condors encountering penalty trouble in a three-goal third period for San Diego. Adam Cracknell's pair of goals increases his offensive output to six goals in his last five games.
"I think we have to maybe slim down on the penalties a little bit," forward Mitch Callahan said. "Guys got taken out of their groove a little bit in the room and it kind of taxed our players that do play big penalty minutes."
Defenceman Ryan Stanton scored to equalize in the first period off Ryan McLeod's second helper as a Condor, while Keegan Lowe's first of the postseason 8:02 into the final frame to cut San Diego's lead to 4-2 only served as consolation.
Condors goaltender Shane Starrett was pulled for the second straight game after 28 minutes and making nine saves on 12 shots before making way for Stuart Skinner, who stopped 18 of 19 attempts in relief.
Both clubs complete a less than 24-hour turnaround to Saturday night's Game 5 at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield.
"We're looking forward to it," Stanton said. "The season's on the line and I think we have the group in there to step up. We'll get our rest and we'll be ready to go tomorrow."
Woodcroft and captain Keegan Lowe preached urgency from puck drop at Condors morning skate, and the Condors followed through on much of that ask with an early 5-1 lead in shots and Logan Day striking the post on a wrist shot that eluded the vision of San Diego goaltender Jeff Glass in the opening five minutes.
The former Endicott College defenceman played an immaculate pass to put Tyler Benson through on a breakaway that was stopped by Glass with the right shoulder after the Edmonton, Alberta product had the netminder flat-footed from a quick fake.
The Gulls would be the first on the board, with Adam Cracknell taking advantage of an unlucky bounce for the Condors and Starrett off the backboards that rebounded in front and was touched last by Cracknell for his fifth goal in as many games.
But Ryan McLeod sparked the response from Bakersfield three minutes later, picking up the misfired pass by a Gulls defenceman in the offensive zone and delivering a perfect pass for Ryan Stanton to notch his second of the postseason 4:08 before the intermission.
Sam Carrick quickly put the Gulls ahead 25 seconds from the second-period restart after being given time to walk out and place his effort over the left pad of Starrett.
"I think we weren't sharp or crisp enough breaking the puck out and it kind of got away on us there," Woodcroft said.
Cracknell doubled San Diego's lead and tallied his second of the contest with a lethal bar-down wrist shot that spelled the end to Starrett's night for the second game in a row after surrendering three goals on 11 shots.
"He's a solid player," Stanton said of the Gulls forward. "He's been around forever. I've played against that guy a lot and he's a big body that shoots the puck well. He gets in on the forecheck, he's smart, and you just have to contain him."
With 41 seconds left in the middle frame, the Gulls made quick work of a power play brought on by a Stanton cross check through Kevin Roy, putting San Diego up a trio of goals with 20 minutes remaining.
"We tried to settle our guys down, Woodcroft said of the intermission talk. "I thought Skinner came in and gave us good goaltending and a chance. We put our emphasis in the second period on making sure that we took pride in our structure, realize our structure gives us a chance."
Keegan Lowe cut into San Diego's lead with 11:58 remaining, finishing off his first of the postseason after David Gust's shot took a deflection off the stick of Tyler Vesel in front, but it proved insignificant as the Condors failed to mount a comeback in the final minutes.
Bakersfield won't have long to sit on the result as they return to Rabobank Arena on Saturday night aiming to stay alive in the series down three games to one. Puck drop is at 8:00 p.m. MDT.
"I thought there were a lot of really good things in the third period," Woodcroft said. "We're going to carry those with us into tomorrow night."