Quite simply, when it came time to close the deal and march to the playoffs the Condors were unable to get the job done.
And it makes missing the playoffs this season more painful and frustrating than a year ago.
Last year the Condors won their last three games and wound up two points short in that quest. But it didn’t really matter. They were never in the driver’s seat for the final playoff berth and were eliminated with a week left in the season.
This year the Condors took control of their destiny with an 11-3 run from Feb. 18 through March 25. That put them four points up on Stockton in the battle for the final playoff position in the American Hockey League Pacific Division with nine games left.
Then the wheels came off.
The Condors were riding a four-game winning streak when the lowly Manitoba Moose, which had one win in its last 11 games, rolled into town and rolled over the Condors 5-2 on March 28. Turnovers and bad penalties were the culprit in that one and turnovers plagued the Condors repeatedly down the stretch.
The Condors lost at home to Ontario three nights later and in just two games the Heat, which won twice, were even in points with the Condors.
Bakersfield seemed to right the ship when it came back the next night and put forth a solid effort to beat Ontario.
Then it was off for a five-game road trip, starting in the state of Texas where the Heat went 4-0-0-1 the week before.
The Condors went 1-2 on their trip through Texas and suddenly they were playing catch up as the Heat kept on winning.
The Heat went 6-0-3 down the stretch, with their 2-1 overtime win in the next-to-last game putting the nail in the Condors’ coffin.
“I think our power play let us down a little down the stretch,” Condors coach Gerry Fleming said. “We had some opportunities in Stockton (six power plays) and that was a little bit of a stinger not being able to score on the power play.”
The Condors went 3-6 during the same stretch and that was the difference.
The Heat won in overtime again on Saturday night and finished three points up on Bakersfield.
The stretch run was problematic for the Condors in many regards but turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones played a huge role.
Giving up the first goal, and at times the first two or three, in the final five-game road trip (see turnovers) proved too much to overcome.
“I think our lack of execution at times was a focal point for us,” Fleming said. “When we’re executing, when we’re doing good things with the puck good things happen to us as a result.”
A good number of the turnovers in the crucial stretch run came in the transition game as the team started out of its own zone. Those type of turnovers were not happening when the Condors were clawing their way into fourth place.
“That was something we focused on all year long,” Fleming said. “The proof was in the pudding. When we were doing it well we were successful. We’ll take the next couple of days and reflect (on what went wrong) and make adjustments for next season.”
Despite the disappointment of coming up short again, it was quite the run for the Condors who spent the bulk of the season hovering between sixth and eighth in the Pacific Division and appeared to be dead in the water before the final two months of play.
“I think as a team we got a lot better as the year went on,” said center Josh Currie, who finished the season with a hat trick for goals 20-22. “We had some injuries that kind of hurt us through the year but the organization took a big step forward.”
It was certainly a big step forward for Currie, who hit the 20-goal mark for the first time in his four-year pro career. Ditto for Joey Lagellia, who switched from defense to winger midway through the season and wound up as a 20-goal scorer.
And it was a big step forward personally for rookie goaltender Nick Ellis, who wound up playing in 34 games and went 16-12-2-1 with a solid .918 save percentage.
“If you told me in the beginning of the year I’d play 34 games I’d pe pretty happy with that so overall I’m pretty pleased with my performance this year but I need to build off of that next year and be better,” he said.
As do the Condors if they want to make the playoffs next season.