Much will be made about defenseman Evan Bouchard’s American Hockey League debut with the Bakersfield Condors on Tuesday night, and with good reason.
But Bouchard, the 10th overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, was just one part of a relentless Condors' attack which led to a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Eagles before 6,214 at Rabobank Arena in Game 3 of the opening-round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The victory gave the Condors a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series with Game 4 set for 7 p.m. on Saturday night at Rabobank Arena.
Bouchard, who started the season with seven games with the Oilers before being returned to juniors, assisted on the first goal of the game by Ryan Stanton and scored to put the Condors up 4-1 with a goal midway through the second.
The Condors dominated the game from the first shift on (they out shot Colorado 17-1 in the first period), thanks in no small part to bottom-six forwards.
Evan Polei (a second-year pro on an AHL contract) had a pair of goals and an assist. Luke Espositio (a second-year pro on an AHL contract) had a pair of assists. And David Gust (another second-year pro on an AHL contract) chipped in with an assist.
“We played well top to bottom, forwards to goalie,” said Polei. “We didn’t even really notice they only had one shot until about the three-minute mark. I looked up and noticed they only had one shot. We gotta come out and do that on Saturday, we played an amazing game tonight.”
The Condors were 0-8 on the power play after two games in Colorado but scored on their first man advantage on Tuesday on Stanton’s shot from the point midway through the period.
“I thought our first period we came out and asserted the game we wanted to play,” Condors coach Jay Woodcroft said. “We were able to kill off an early penalty, which I thought was huge for our penalty kill, then our power play got started and found a way to score.”
Bouchard’s forte as a defenseman is offensive and Woodcroft was not surprised by his output on Tuesday.
“I saw somebody who was comfortable in his own skin and knows what he brings to the table,” he said. “That’s what we asked him to do, bring what he brings. He makes a play with the puck, he finds the open person, he gets his shots through from the point. He added a different look or dimension to our power play. He came as advertised.”
Colorado goaltender Pavel Francouz kept the Eagles in the game in the first with 16 saves, but the Condors (who scored 108 second-period goals in the regular season) had four on Tuesday night.
Joe Gambardella started the second-period scoring with his first goal of the playoffs at 5:34 and Polei made it 3-1 two minutes later with his first of the playoffs.
Colorado’s Anton Lindholm cut the lead to 3-1 26 seconds after Polei’s goal, but the Condors made it 4-1 on Bouchard’s goal at 10:30. Polei extended the lead to 5-1 when he banged in a rebound at 17:42.
Colorado got a gift goal with 14 seconds left when Starrett went to the side of the net to play the puck, only to have it take a crazy bounce off the boards and hop past him toward the open net where Sheldon Dries was able to tap it in.
The Condors wound up outshooting the Eagles 41-18.
Game 4 will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday but the Condors will have to prepare across the railroad tracks at the Valley Children’s Ice Center. The arena started its conversion to an indoor football facility after Tuesday night’s game as the annual Arena Bowl for high school seniors is set for Friday night. The Eagles traveled to Los Angeles to prepare for Game 4.
Playoff hockey draws the pro scouts and there were about a dozen of them taking in the action on Tuesday night.