Trailing by a goal early in the third period Saturday night at Rabobank Arena, the Condors had a golden opportunity to tie the game when they ended up with an extended power play.
Instead, what could have been a momentum builder turned into game loser as Stockton's Matt Reber scored a short-handed goal on a breakaway.
That put the Thunder up 4-2 and it held on for a 4-3 win before 4,759 in the first of 11 meetings between the Highway 99 rivals this season.
Game two of the series is today at 4 in Stockton.
As hurtful as the short-handed goal (which came five minutes into the period) was, Condors coach Matt O'Dette said the second period was far more troublesome. That's when the Condors took an early 2-1 lead and left trailing 3-2.
"The second period, we came out on the first shift, scored on the power play then took the rest of the period off (being out shot 16-7) and that's where the game was lost," he said. "Then a short-handed goal in the third did us in. We came close to tying it but too little too late."
The Condors got zero shots on goal on the 3 minute, 38-second power play that led to Stockton's winning goal at the 4:07 mark, but pulled within one goal on a power-play goal by Erik Burgdoerfer with nine minutes left.
Bakersfield pulled goaltender Brian Stewart with 1:23 left and swarmed Stockton goaltender Tyler Bunz, firing six shots in the frantic finish.
The Condors struck early as Parker Stanfield finished a hard-working shift for his team-high fourth goal 3:12 into the game.
The play started when Alex Hudson took a big hit outside the blue line as he dumped the puck into the zone. A few seconds later, Hudson delivered a big hit along the boards to knock the puck free, Evan Trupp picked it up and made a nice pass to Stanfield, who scored form the left edge of the right circle.
That lead lasted only two minutes as the Condors failed to get the puck out of their own zone and Justin Maylan redirected a shot by Teigan Zahn past Stewart to tie the game.
The Condors struck quickly in the second as Justin Pender scored an unlikely power-play goal at the 16-second mark.
Bakersfield had 52 seconds of power-play time reaming from the first period and drove the puck deep into the Stockton zone off the face off.
Pender sent a shot high and wide off the back glass and the puck bounced into the back of the Stockton goaltender and into the net to put the Condors up 2-1.
But, once again, Stockton answered quickly as Zahn chipped a puck over Stewart from close range at the 2:25 mark.
The Thunder kept the pressure on and two minutes later had a 3-2 lead as Eric Hunter put in a rebound as three players drove to the net on a quick rush.
“When we score and get momentum we can't relax,” O’Dette said. “We have to take it to another level. We score that goal to start the second then we had a let down. Can't have that. Have to keep going, build on those shifts, build on that momentum and play a full 60.
“We haven't played a full 60. We’re looking to do that.”
Pender was back in the lineup after spending the last two games on reserve. Fellow D-man Olivier Malka sat for the first time this season. ... O'Dette said forward Brett Perlini suffered a concussion on a hit at the Stockton net late in the third period. He will be out indefinitely.