Thunder Finish Sweep of Ontario with 2-1 Win
The #7 Stockton Thunder scored two goals in the third period to earn a 2-1 win and eliminate the #2 Ontario Reign from the Kelly Cup Playoffs with a four-game sweep of their Western Conference quarterfinals series.
The Thunder overcame a 1-0 deficit that they faced since the first 2:30 of the opening period. James Henry scored 24 seconds into the third period to tie the game, and Nick Tremblay tallied the game winner 6:02 into the period. It was the first goal of the postseason for both players.
It was the 20th match-up of 2013-14 between the Pacific Division opponents, with the Thunder finishing the year with a 10-7-1-2 record against the Reign. With the victory, the Thunder advance to the Western Conference semi-finals where they will take on either the #3 Utah Grizzlies or #6 Bakersfield Condors. The Thunder are now 8-3 all-time in potential playoff series-winning games.
Chris Crane opened the scoring just 2:30 into the first period to give Ontario its first lead of the series. It was the first-career playoff goal for the rookie Worcester Sharks prospect. Yasin Cisse and John Ryder picked up the assists on the play. For Cisse, it was his third point of the year in 12 games, counting the regular season, with all three coming in games against the Stockton Thunder.
The Thunder appeared to tie the game when Riley Wetmore took a shot from the right-wing circle. Ontario goaltender Jussi Olkinuora made the save but the rebound bounced into the air. Defenseman Sean Escobedo deflected it into the net, but referee Stephen Reneau waived off the goal, ruling that it had been knocked in by the swing of Escobedo’s arm. Ontario was outshot 8-7 in the opening frame, but it was the first time the Thunder allowed a first period goal and the first time they failed to score in the opening 20 minutes.
There was no scoring in the second period despite a turning point in the game. Midway through the period, Thunder forward Garet Hunt was given a five-minute major penalty after a collision with defenseman Olivier Malka. Hunt was also given a game misconduct on the play, depriving the Thunder of their captain and the player who had the game-winning goal in game three, for the remainder of the contest. The Thunder penalty kill unit managed to hold the Reign at bay and head into the third period down just 1-0.
The Thunder’s offense roared out of the gate to tie things up. Henry, making his first-career playoff appearance, popped home the game-tying goal only 24 seconds into the frame. Matt Bergland had the assist as Henry wheeled around the right-wing circle and cut to the slot. His shot beat Olkinuora through the five-hole.
A power play chance with 3:59 gone in the third gave the Thunder a chance to take their first lead. While the team did not score with the man-advantage, the Thunder did find the net just three seconds after the power play time expired. Nick Tremblay redirected a pass from Lee Baldwin right in front of the crease for the goal. Adam Brace also picked up an assist on the play in his first game in the playoffs. The helper gave Brace a five-game point streak carried over from the regular season.
On the brink of elimination the Reign pushed for an equalizer, going with an empty net and an extra attacker in the final 1:39 of the period. However, the Thunder were able to hang on for the victory and eliminate the Reign from the postseason. Ontario has still only advanced past the first round of the playoffs once in their history. This was the second time the Thunder had eliminated the Reign from the playoffs, having previously done so in 2009.
The Thunder will start their conference semi-final series on the road, regardless of which team they face. Thunder fans should check for updates on StocktonThunder.com for information about the team’s second round playoff dates when they become available. Special playoff ticket packages are available through the Stockton Thunder front office by calling 209-373-1500. Fans can get tickets to all of the Thunder’s 2014 Kelly Cup Playoff games with the purchase of a new season ticket.
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