The Thunder edged their way back in the best-of-seven series, trailing Idaho 2-1 and goaltender Bryan Pitton, making his first start of the postseason, broke a Thunder playoff record with 49 saves while earning the first playoff shutout in Thunder history and the first of his playoff career.
He outdueled Richard Bachman of Idaho, who stopped 36 shots and had a shutout streak of 172:07 in the series snapped by Constant's goal. The overtime win was the third of the playoffs for Stockton, who ran their record to 3-0 in the OT stages.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 at Stockton - Friday, May 7 - 7:30 p.m. (Stockton Arena)
Game 5: Idaho at Stockton - Saturday, May 8 - 7:30 p.m. (Stockton Arena)
Game 6: Stockton at Idaho - Tuesday, May 11 - 6:10 p.m. (Qwest Arena) *
Game 7: Stockton at Idaho - Wednesday, May 12 - 6:10 p.m. (Qwest Arena) *
* If necessary
"What a character win," said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. "Our resiliency really came through when we needed it most. Constant's goal came as a result of simple hockey needed into a lengthy game like that - getting a screen in front of their goaltender. Bryan was remarkable in net as well - he made the basic saves all night and came through with some big stops when we needed them."
Both teams battled through the first period with the Thunder edging Idaho in shots, 11-10. Pitton made his first big save of the game on a Marty Flichel re-direction at the base of the left circle and Bachman countered with stops on a Matt Robinson snapper in the first shift of the game and Steve Vanoosten's one-timer from the right circle with nearly six minutes remaining.
The Thunder had a chance to grab the lead in the second period on a wide open chance at the left circle for J.F. Caudron, but his rebound zipped off the right goal post with Bachman diving to get back in position.
Idaho outshot the Thunder, 8-3 in the third period and 6-4 in the first overtime, with Pitton making a key save on Mark McCutcheon's wrist shot from the left circle.
Bachman faced a close-range redirection attempt by Igor Gongalsky in the opening minutes of the overtime period, but turned away the chance from between the hash marks with a stop at the glove side.
Idaho cranked up the pressure, outshooting the Thunder 18-8 in the second overtime period, but failing to capitalize on two power-play chances. Pitton preserved the game with a glove save on a Dustin Friesen backhander from between the circles at the middle of the period.
Flichel was whistled for a tripping penalty for taking down Jason Pitton behind the Idaho net with 1:19 left in the double overtime, setting up the game-winning power-play.
After the Thunder won the opening faceoff of the third overtime and worked the puck in deep, Robinson's feed from the left boards found Constant positioned at the high slot while Jason Pitton set a screen in front of Bachman.
Constant unleashed a wrist shot that beat Bachman past the blocker side, sending the Thunder flying off the bench with the win and Stockton Arena into pandemonium.
Idaho was kept to an 0-for-6 effort on the power-play.
NOTES: The Thunder scratched Riley Emmerson (inactive list), Brett Hemingway (inactive list), Trevor Hunt (inactive list), Colin Hemingway (healthy) and Kelly Czuy (injury, day-to-day) ... the game surpassed the previous record game in Stockton playoff history - Game 3 of the 2007 National Conference Quarterfinals, won by Idaho, 2-1 at 8:06 of double overtime ... Constant's goal snapped an 0-for-15 drought for the Thunder on the power-play, in the series ... the Thunder improved to 4-1 at home in the postseason and has won nine of the last 12 games at home in Kelly Cup Playoff history.
Both teams return to play in Game 4 of the series at Stockton Arena on Friday, May 7 at 7:30 p.m. The game can be heard and viewed online exclusively at www.stocktonthunder.com, courtesy of B2 Networks (audio is free of charge).
Tickets for Thunder home playoff games are available by calling (209) 373-1700 or by visiting www.StocktonTickets.com