As time was ticking down in the third period in Abbotsford on Wednesday night, Bakersfield Condors coach Colin Chaulk was juggling his lines.
Never a good sign.
Other than an early apparent goal, which was disallowed, the Condors generated only a handful of scoring chances as the Abbotsford Canucks gave up precious little in their own zone.
Meanwhile, though the chances were not many, the Canucks capitalized on theirs en route to a 3-0 victory in Game 1 of the American Hockey League first-round best-of three playoff series.
“The first period, both teams wanted to create a little more and there wasn’t much room out there,” Condors captain Brad Malone said in a phone interview on Thursday. “In the second they brought a little more energy than we did and obviously took advantage of two breakdowns that ended up in the back of our net. We just have to find a way to answer.”
Stating the obvious: If the Condors can’t find a way to win on Friday (game time is 7 p.m.) their season is done.
“I think they played their game better than we did ours,” Condors coach Colin Chaulk said. “ I think there were moments where we played Condors hockey and when we did those things we had success.
“When we didn't it played into their hands. I think that’s a real positive. When we didn’t do the things we talked about and we normally do it didn’t work. That’s a good thing.”
A good thing as the coaching staff will have emphasized, via video, that going off script is not the key to success.
“They’re a quick team with their feet and the puck,” Malone said. “I think we gotta do a better job of getting on top of them earlier, force them to make plays through bodies. Hopefully we can up the physical ante a little bit and get back on that forecheck.”
Other than the disallowed goal, it was basically a three minute and 30 second span early in the second period that clipped the Condors’ wings.
Abbotford’s Nils Hoglander drove down the right side, got around the Condors defense and fired a shot on Calvin Pickard. The puck bounced into the air and Hoglander batted his own rebound out of midair for a 1-0 lead 1:28 into the second.
A wide-open Max Sasson scored from the bottom of the right circle at 4:58, hitting a basically open net before Pickard could slide right to left after a cross-ice pass.
“They scored on back-to-back chances and that ended up being the difference,” Chaulk said.
Jack Rathbone scored a power-play goal off a won draw in the Condors zone with 5:32 left for the final goal.
Bakersfield’s disallowed goal came 6:44 into the first period when Raphael Lavoie entered the Canucks zone with speed, cut around a defender and put a short-range shot on Spencer Martin. The puck was loose in the blue paint, between Martin’s feet and James Hamblin was able to barge between a couple of Canucks and put the puck into the net.
The referee, right behind the net, signaled a goal. But after a video review that took several minutes officials ruled Hamblin had put the puck into the net with “a distinct kicking motion,” thus making it no goal.
“I think maybe you get that one there and it gives us some momentum,” Chaulk said. “Maybe it’s a different story but it was zero-zero after one.”
The Condors were outshot 30-21 and had precious few Grade A chances or rebound chances.
“From my perspective, we just have to hold onto pucks longer, play a heavier game with the puck and make them work harder to get the puck back,” Malone said. “We have to have five guys close to each other and supporting each other just because of the way they take care of their D zone.
“They have five guys hovering around the puck. It’s difficult to make plays when you’re trying to make it through bodies and sticks. We have to support each other and spread out the O-zone, move pucks quickly and bury our opportunities.”
Now comes the most important game of the season.
“I don’t think our expectations have changed,” Malone said. “You gotta be a pro. Get ready physically and mentally. Our season is on the line and obviously that brings a little more intensity and hunger. Put those two things together and I think the pressure moves to the side.”