STOCKTON, Calif. - John-Scott Dickson recorded a natural hat trick to help the Idaho Steelheads eliminate the Stockton Thunder, who nearly erased a three-goal deficit in the final 12 minutes of play, in a 7-5 final in Game 6 of the National Conference Final of the 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs, before 4,200 fans at Qwest Arena on Tuesday.
Idaho, looking to claim their third Kelly Cup title, won the Conference Final series in six games, 4-2 and advanced to their third appearance in the Kelly Cup Final in the last six seasons. The game ended the longest playoff run in Thunder history (its first trip to the Conference Final) and closed the second straight season that Stockton played into the month of May.
The Thunder, who originally claimed a 2-0 lead before Idaho's four-goal rally in the second period, were helped out by goals from Steve Vanoosten, Jason Pitton, Garet Hunt, Matt Marquardt and Kelly Czuy. STOCKTON VS. IDAHO - NATIONAL CONFERENCE FINALS
Game 1: Stockton 2 at Idaho 4 Game 2: Stockton 0 at Idaho 4 Game 3: Idaho 0 at Stockton 1 Game 4: Idaho 2 at Idaho 7 Game 5: Idaho 6 at Stockton 3 Game 6: Stockton 5 at Idaho 7 Idaho wins series, 4-2
"It stings, no question about it; we had a feeling coming into the playoffs that we had the horses to deliver a championship to the city of Stockton this year," said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. "Idaho got some timely goals and were able to capitalize on our mistakes. Yet, we come out of this playoff run with our heads held high as an organization. We have the best fans, best building, best ownership and atmosphere that anybody looking to advance their career in hockey can benefit from. Our future is bright."
The Thunder roared out to their two-goal lead after the first period, maintaining control on a physical attack that produced an array of high-quality scoring chances on goaltender Rejean Beauchemin, who started for the second straight game with Richard Bachman up to the AHL on emergency recall.
Vanoosten's power-play goal put the Thunder on the board with 5:39 into the game, taking Oren Eizenman's feed and ripping a one-timer to the back of the net, from the high slot for his second goal of the postseason.
Pitton converted off an Idaho turnover to boost the cushion to 2-0 with two minutes left in the period, firing a slapshot fro the right circle that was going wide of the net, but ricocheted off Idaho defenseman Guillaume Monast and past Beauchemin.
Dickson then single-handedly boosted Idaho to the lead with a natural hat trick in the second period, starting with a rebound goal at the left circle with 3:48 elapsed. Just 1:57 later, his rebound (goal originally credited to Evan Barlow) through a pile-up at the top of the crease fluttered over a fallen Andrew Perugini that tied the score, 2-2.
Then at 9:29, Dickson picked the top right corner of the net on a snap shot from the mid-slot, completing the hat trick after he corralled a Marty Flichel outlet pass.
The Thunder fought back to knot the score, 3-3, on Hunt's third goal of the playoffs with 7:23 left in the period. After Hunt was pushed into Beauchemin, he regained his ground, took Pitton's pass from the left corner and roofed a one-timer from the top of the crease.
Yet, Idaho claimed the lead again on a Mark McCutcheon rebound with 3:35 left in the period after Perugini turned away Mark Derlago's snap shot at the right circle.
Idaho then embarked on a two-goal rush in a span of 3:20 to assume a commanding 6-3 lead early in the final period off two outnumbered attack chances. Kevin DeVirgilio converted off a Thunder turnover and Evan Barlow's cross-ice pass when he slammed in a one-timer from the left circle with 1:30 elapsed.
Derlago's second goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs pushed the Thunder into a 6-3 hole with 15:10 remaining on a wrist shot at the right circle, closing a 3-on-1 break.
The Thunder, attempting a furious rally to save the game, called timeout after the goal and got momentum back in their favor on Marquardt's snap shot from off the rush with 12:10 left in the game, closing the gap to 6-4.
After a penalty kill on a Czuy boarding penalty, it was Czuy, himself who got the Thunder back in the game on a power-play goal, down 6-5, with 2:21 left in the game on a one-timer at the goal mouth that beat Beauchemin through the five-hole.
The Thunder pulled Perugini for an extra attacker and after several chances in the Idaho zone, the Steelheads closed the series with Flichel's empty net goal with 12 seconds left.
Beauchemin picked up the win with 24 saves. Perugini, who was making his first start in net since Game 2 of the series, closed his postseason record at 7-5 with a 37-save effort.
NOTES: The Thunder scratched Riley Emmerson (inactive list), Brett Hemingway (inactive list), Trevor Hunt (inactive list), Igor Gongalsky (injury, day-to-day) and Justin DaCosta (healthy) ... Idaho outshot Stockton, 44-29 ... the Thunder power-play converted perfectly, 3-for-3 in the game after amassing just four man advantage goals in six previous playoff road games ... Stockton scored an ECHL leading 62 goals in its postseason run (at the time of its exit), a new Thunder playoff record ... James Bates now ranks as the Thunder all-time playoff scoring leader with 30 points (9g-21a) in 29 games ... Eizenman finished as the Thunder scoring leader with 19 points (3g-16a) in 15 games in this year's postseason.