Stockton Thunder advance to round two
Thunder advances to Conference Semifinals after 8-5 win over Alaska
The Thunder celebrate following their series win over Alaska.
- photo by George Steckler/Stockton Thunder
The Thunder, who won the best of five series, 3-1, and became the first team in ECHL history to eliminate the Alaska Aces from the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs, advanced to the second round for the second straight year. Ten different Thunder players hit the scoresheet and Andrew Perugini made 40 saves in net.
STOCKTON VS. ALASKA - NATIONAL CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS
(Stockton wins series, 3-1)
Game 1: Stockton 3 at Alaska 4
Game 2: Stockton 5 at Alaska 2
Game 3: Alaska 4 at Stockton 7
Game 4: Alaska 5 at Stockton 8
"Your goal all the time is to get into the playoffs and then look to go as far as you can," said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. "We got through a big challenge in getting past the first round. I've never seen a series as volatile as far as lead changes. I loved the way we competed. There was no ‘give-up' in the team's vocabulary and we really found a way to win hockey games, especially at home here."
The Thunder began the game the way that Game 3 ended - a five goal flurry - eventually chasing starter Billy Sauer from the Alaska net after fighting back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits. T.J Fast and Jarrett Konkle put Alaska ahead 2-0 with goals in the first 4:55, coming 24 seconds apart.
Robinson's power-play goal got the Thunder on the board, trailing 2-1 with 14:30 left on a snap shot from the slot that beat Sauer to the glove side, but Konkle finished off a rebound with 8:09 left to restore Alaska's two-goal lead.
The Thunder responded in roaring fashion, scoring four goals in a span of 5:27. Just 16 seconds after Konkle's second goal of the game, Chris D'Alvise snuck a wrist shot through Sauer's five-hole from the left circle, drawing the Thunder to within a 3-2 deficit.
Bates then converted off a screen to tie the score at 3-3 on an Anthony Aiello drive from the high slot for a power-play goal with 5:32 remaining in the period.
Completing a three-goal rush in a span of 3:41, J.F. Caudron's wrister from the left circle found the back of the net just 20 seconds after Bates' marker, putting the Thunder ahead for good at 4-3, lifting Sauer in place of Scott Reid.
The Thunder continued to roll, when Jordan Bendfeld darted out of the box after a Thunder penalty kill, took Jason Pitton's lead pass off the left boards and scored on a breakaway with a snap shot between the hash marks with 2:21 left to boost the lead to 5-3.
Dating back to the third period of Game 3, the Thunder finished the first period by burying a whopping ten goals in a span of 28:37.
Garet Hunt's first goal of the playoffs pushed the lead to 6-3 when his dump in deflected off Reid's glove and into the net with 3:34 gone in the second period.
Igor Gongalsky's first goal of the postseason hiked the lead to 7-3 on a wrist shot from the left circle, and Alaska's second goaltending change in the game lifted Reid in place of the original starter, Sauer.
Alaska closed the gap to 7-4 with 12:02 left in the game when Anthony Peluso scored off the rush on a wrist shot from the right circle. Yet, Robinson put the game out of reach with his second goal of the night with 8:50 left, converting Oren Eizenman's centering pass from between the circles to restore the four-goal lead.
Konkle completed a hat trick effort with 5:10 left in the game on a 5-on-3 power-play goal, sealing the game. Alaska would get no closer despite pulling Sauer for an extra attacker in the final two minutes of the game.
NOTES: The Thunder scratched Riley Emmerson (inactive list), Brett Hemingway (inactive list), Trevor Hunt (inactive list), Justin DaCosta (healthy) and Colin Hemingway (injury, day-to-day) ... Stockton won a series clinching game on their own home ice for the first time in team history ... the Thunder power-play converted at a 2-for-6 effort and finished the series with a 6-for-21 effort (28.5%) ... Alaska's previous earliest exit was the second round (National Conference Semifinals) in 2007-08, losing to Las Vegas ... the Thunder improved to 6-2 in the previous eight lifetime home playoff games.
The Thunder opens Game 1 of the National Conference Semifinals against the winner of the Bakersfield/Victoria series, a best-of-seven affair (schedule to be announced). All road games can be heard on radio at 1280 KWSX and all games can be viewed online exclusively at www.stocktonthunder.com, courtesy of B2 Networks (audio is free of charge). Tickets are available by calling (209) 373-1700 or by visiting www.StocktonTickets.com.
1. STK - 28 James Bates
2. STK - 71 Matt Robinson
3. STK - 10 Chris D'Alvise