Photo courtesy of Asvitt Photography | Stockton ThunderSTOCKTON, CA.
- Yannick Tifu’s two unanswered goals helped send the Stockton Thunder to a 3-1 loss to the Reading Royals in Game 3 of the Kelly Cup Finals in front of 4,379 fans at Stockton Arena on Tuesday.
The Thunder, who leads the playoffs with four comeback wins when trailing in the third period, now faces a 3-0 series deficit and must complete the greatest comeback of all to win the championship.
“You’ve got to believe.” Thunder head coach Matt Thomas said, “The worst thing you can do in these situations is start doubting yourself. We played a good game. We gave their top line two easy looks and they buried them. We didn’t capitalize on our chances.” STOCKTON VS. READING – KELLY CUP FINALS (all times listed MT)
(Reading leads, 3-0)
Game 1: Stockton 5 at Reading 6 (OT)
Game 2: Stockton 0 at Reading 4
Game 3: Reading 3 at Stockton 1
Game 4: Reading at Stockton – Friday, May 24 – 8:30 p.m. (Stockton Arena)
Game 5: Reading at Stockton – Saturday, May 25 – 8:30 p.m. (Stockton Arena) *
Game 6: Stockton at Reading – Tuesday, May 28 – 5:05 p.m. (Sovereign Center) *
Game 7: Stockton at Reading – Wednesday, May 29 – 5:05 p.m. (Sovereign Center) *
Forward Harrison Reed netted the Thunder’s lone goal on the night. Reading’s Riley Gill took the win with a 28 save performance, while Olivier Roy made 20 stops for Stockton. Kirk McDonald sealed the game with an empty net goal with 6.6 seconds left.
The Thunder jumped on the board during four-on-four play when defenseman Mike Little poked the puck past the blue line to Reed on a breakaway. Reed beat Gill on the one-on-one with a backhand deke to electrify the crowd and give the Thunder its first lead since Game 1 at 1-0, just 8:33 into the opening frame.
Reading erased Stockton’s lead a few minutes later when the Royals converted on a two-on-one. From the right side of the rush, T.J. Syner passed across the face of goal to a waiting Tifu, who sent the puck top shelf to make it 1-1 at the 11:18 mark.
Looking to pick up the tempo in the second period, the Thunder pressured the Reading net, outshooting the Royals 13-6. However, neither team was able to break the tie in the middle frame.
The Royals provided an exact replica of their first goal 7:56 into the third period. Skating on a breakaway on the right side, Syner found Tifu at the right post, where Tifu one-timed the puck by Roy for a 2-1 Reading lead.
Following a solid minute in the Reading zone on a flurry of Thunder scoring chances – including a good look on a Mike Little one timer at the left circle – MacDonald converted on the empty netter from the red line to seal the deal for Reading.
“I think we have to do a lot of the same things we have been doing, but just tighten up defensively.” Reed said, “We have to do all the small things, like chipping pucks in, winning puck battles down low. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I believe we have it in us to do it.”
The only time in ECHL history that a team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win the series 4-3 was the Cincinnati Cyclones, who did so against Reading in the 2010 Conference Finals.
“It’s been done before,” said Thomas. “If there’s anyone that can come back from a 3-0 deficit, I believe it’s us. That’s the way we’ve got to approach it.”
The Thunder scratched Ryan Constant and Cameron Abney…Stockton mayor Anthony Silva spoke to the crowd before player introductions…this was the first Kelly Cup Finals game to be played in the state of California…the Thunder outshot the Royals 29-23…the Thunder went 0-4 on the power play…this was the third time the Thunder had given up three unanswered goals at Stockton Arena this postseason…the Thunder is now 5-9 lifetime in Game 3 scenarios, with the last win coming in the Western Conference Semifinals, 3-1 over the Alaska Aces at Stockton Arena this postseason.