“I’m definitely going golfing tomorrow.”
Those were the words of Condors captain Brad Malone after Bakersfield defeated Abbottsford 3-2 on Wednesday night to advance to the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
And once again the win came in dramatic fashion.
The Condors took a 2-1 lead 4:39 into the third period on a goal by Malone and appeared to have all the momentum until Abbotsford’s Sheldon Rempal sent a blistering one-timer past Stuart Skinner to tie the game with 7:09 remaining.
As the clock ticked down it appeared there might be a second straight overtime game until a seemingly harmless wrister by Luke Esposito led to a dramatic game-winning goal.
Esposito’s shot, from just inside the blue line, went off Spencer Martin’s right pad and bounced off the body of James Hamblin, who was being taken down at the left edge. Hamblin somehow got his skate on the puck and kicked it across the crease, in front of a flat-on-his-stomach Martin, where Cooper Marody put it into a wide open net.
That came with 1:22 left. The Canucks pulled Martin for an extra attacker with 1:11 remaining, but the Condors, with 3,999 fans on their feet, allowed just one shot before the clock ran out and an on-ice celebration ensued.
Skinner stopped 27 shots to earn the win.
“It was kind of a crazy play,” said Malone, who viewed the winning goal from the bench. “I saw Hammer get tackled, then I saw the puck get through. I saw Hammer knock it over to Coop and then it was like time stopped there for a second before he put it in.”
The Condors now wait on the other two Pacific Division series to finish before finding out who they will face in the best-of-five second round. If there are no upsets it would be against No. 1 seed Stockton, which had a bye in the first round.
“Our guys gave everything they had,” Condors head coach Colin Chaulk said. “It’s been an emotional year for all of us. To see what they did in the third period there was just an exceptional effort.”
Malone’s goal was another crazy one as the puck bounced off Dino Kambeitz and into the slot where Malone was waiting.
“Just kind of the way we play. Get pucks to the net and the law of averages: If you keep doing good things consistently, good things will happen — and those were the results on all three of our goals,” Malone said
Adam Cracknell brought the crowd to life late in the second period when he tied the game 1–1 by driving down the middle of the ice and depositing a loose puck into the net, after Noah Philip drove down the left side, got around an Abbotsford defenseman and got a shot from the slot on Martin.
Philip, who joined the Condors late in the season after finishing play at the University of Alberta, did not play on Tuesday night. He was slotted in after Tyler Benson was injured Tuesday.
“Noah comes in and what a play he made to give us that momentum,” Chaulk said. “And that’s what he did, it gave us that momentum and that’s really what the game’s about. When you have it you have to hold it as long as you can.
“At times you’re going to lose it, and you have to fight and claw to get it back. We had that micro-focus the past few days.”
Unlike Tuesday’s game when the Condors fired shots at will on Martin in the first period, Wednesday’s opening frame was a tight-checking affair with each team generating just six shots. The Condors ultimately won that game 2-1 in overtime.
The Canucks took a 1-0 lead 15:45 into the period when Sheldon Dries, who had 35 regular-season goals, redirected a shot from Jack Rathbone on a power play.
Abbotsford controlled play early in the second period, but the Condors, who trailed in shots 15-10 when Skinner made a big save midway through, started to turn the tide and get shots in on Martin.
Skinner made a big left-pad save on Sheldon Rempal with four minutes left to keep it a one-goal game.