Bakersfield falls short in the AHL Pacific Division Final, losing out 6-2 in Game 6 to end their Calder Cup Playoff journey
SAN DIEGO, CA - Turn off the lights.
The Bakersfield Condors couldn't extend The After Party and their AHL Pacific Division Final matchup with the San Diego Gulls to a seventh game, crashing out of the Calder Cup Playoffs at the second-to-last hurdle of Game 6 with a 6-2 defeat at Pechanga Arena on Monday.
"It's an emotional night," Joe Gambardella said post-game. "It's been a great year. The guys in that locker room, it's the best team I've ever been on.
"Everyone really battled for each other every night and this was a really special group. We enjoyed coming to the rink every single day and it's sad to see it over."
After double-overtime magic in Game 5, the Condors couldn't find their footing when forced to fight from behind down 3-1 through 20 minutes. Stuart Skinner surrendered three goals on eight shots in 17:33 of play, giving way to Shane Starrett to mark the third time this series the Condors had their starter relieved in the opening period.
Evan Bouchard gathered momentum for Bakersfield 4:29 into the second frame with his third goal of the postseason, but the flame was all but extinguished late in the third when Ben Street buried the empty netter with just under two minutes to go.
"You just have to tip your cap and learn from it," Brad Malone, who's served as a leader wearing an 'A' for the Condors for the last two seasons and extended his playoff total to 13 points (5G, 8A) with a goal tonight, said.
"There's a lot of young guys here who have some bright futures, so whether they're here or in Edmonton, it's a good foundation to build on."
The dust hasn't finally settled, but reflecting on a season that included a 17-game losing streak and first AHL playoff appearance for the Condors sparks plenty of emotion for the players and staff who became the heartbeat of Bakersfield for one of the club's most successful seasons.
"We went deep against a very deep San Diego team, and I think there's lots to be proud of," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft, who took his first foray into the head coaching ranks this season in Bakersfield, said.
"The biggest thing we wanted to do was make sure we were connected to our community and connected to each other, and I think we accomplished that goal. The loss of this playoff series stings, but I think there's lessons to be learnt going forward. But I think the state of the franchise as it sits right now is in pretty good shape."
The Gulls jumped ahead early, with Chase De Leo sliding an effort to the left of Skinner five-hole only 46 seconds into the contest for the hosts to take the 1-0 advantage.
Malone continued his torrent production in the postseason by notching his fifth goal of the playoffs after picking up a redirected puck off Benson in the slot and wrapping the puck around a locked-up Gulls netminder Jeff Glass.
On ten minutes even, Kalle Kossila put the Gulls back in front after being allowed the time and space to walk in and wire a wrist shot over Skinner's glove.
The centre then utilized the same type of opportunity from a tight angle on the power play with 2:27 left in the period, sniping his second of the game under the crossbar before Skinner made way for Starrett in goal.
"They have a good lineup through forwards and defence, as do we," Gambardella said. "They did a good job of getting their shots through and recovering pucks, but I thought we battled. We definitely had no quit in our game, and sometimes you just have to tip your hat."
Bouchard notched his third goal and seventh point of the playoff campaign in the second when Ryan McLeod was able to create an opportunity following a number of good dangles in the neutral zone. The puck worked its way through Joe Gambardella to the stick of Bouchard, who placed his wrist shot glove side.
Sam Comtois pounced on a goalmouth scramble, then Sam Carrick's short-side tally with 6:19 left on the clock in the middle frame had the hosts up a trio of goals. The Condors needed to mount a strong comeback in the third period, trailing 5-2 through 40 minutes.
"They put the pucks in the back of the net and capitalized on the small mistakes that we made. In the playoffs, that's a huge difference," Gambardella said. "You can't take away anything that we did. Still credit to our goalies, defencemen, forwards, coaching staff, all the way through to our trainers."
Street iced the game and the series a second into the final two minutes, lifting a wrist shot over the retreating Starrett who was bound for the bench to bring on the extra attacker.
The job of returning the series to Bakersfield wasn't done, but the city's impact was one felt the entire season.
"I've been around a few organizations and a few different rinks, and that one was a special one," Malone said. "Not just in the playoffs, all season. We knew we had support and it's a tough league. We got a lot of tough road contests, but when we were at home we felt pretty confident using that momentum and having the fans behind us.
"Just the organization as a whole, they gave us every opportunity and every tool necessary to win every night. That's something we didn't take for granted and really appreciate."