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By Nick Ellis/ Special to The Californian
BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
For Condors coach Troy Mann, it's time for adjustments.
The Condors flew home for Utah on Sunday, pleased to get a split against the Utah Grizzlies in the first two games of the best-of-seven playoffs series, but concerned for a fellow teammate Matt Thurber, left behind in a Salt Lake City hospital.
Utah at Condors
7 p.m. at Rabobank Arena
Radio: KHTY (970 AM)
Series: Tied 1-1
Thurber remained in the hospital on Monday due to complications from the flu and Mann was preparing for tonight's Game 3 knowing that a valuable cog will be missing from this point on.
"I just heard he's going to be hospitalized a couple of more days; he's probably done for the year," Mann said of Thurber. "The good news is he's stabilized and things are improving health-wise."
Thurber fell violently ill Friday afternoon just before the first playoff game, which the Condors went on to win 1-0.
The loss of the rookie center was noticeable on Bakersfield's power play, which went 0-for-11 in the first two games, including a 52-second stretch of 5-on-3 hockey on Saturday night with the Condors leading 1-0.
"I really felt if we could have scored on that 5-on-3 the second game could have turned out differently," Mann said.
Instead, the Grizzlies scored a few seconds after killing Bakersfield's power play to tie the game and ended up winning on a third-period goal.
Thurber led the Condors in power-play points with four goals and a team-high 12 assists.
"It's a big hole to fill," Mann said of Thurber's loss. "A big concern."
Thus, a change in lines during Monday's practice as Mann tried to come up with a combination of forwards who can generate some offensive in what has been a tight, physical matchup with limited opportunities.
"When you're 0-for-11 you've certainly got your concerns," Mann said of the power-play woes. "We talked about some adjustments, changing some personnel as well. I think the series is so tight 5-on-5 that when you get some power-play opportunities you need to try and bury them."
While Mann is making moves based on necessity, his counterpart, Utah coach Tim Branham, said from his end it's just about refinements.
"We're looking at a few things," Branham said of changes, "but mostly it's just hard work. You've got two great goaltenders (Laurent Brossoit for Bakersfield and Aaron Dell for Utah) so it's just a matter of getting to the paint, taking the goalies' eyes away and then making the shots from there.
"Get the shots to the point, try to get as much traffic as possible in front of the goaltender. The only way you're going to beat them is if they don't see the puck."
Both Dell and Brossoit have been seeing the puck. Dell has a 1.00 goals-against average and .960 save percentage. Brossoit has a 1.01 GAA and a .965 save percentage.
Those types of numbers come as a surprise to no one.
"We knew it was going to be a defensive battle," Branham said. "Two great goaltenders; not a lot of pucks are getting past them."
Mann said both goaltenders' jobs have been made easier due to the defense in front of them.
"There's not a lot of room out there," Mann said. "It's very physical. I think we had 45 hits Friday night alone. A lot of battles. We talked about this before the series, both teams are very, very similar. There's just not a lot of room offensively and those Grade A opportunities for both teams have been under 12 both games. You can see how tight it is."
Which goes back to the importance of manufacturing goals.
"We talked about three types of adjustments we need to make to win the series," Mann said. "There are some areas of ours that are excellent, just like there are some areas of their game that are very good.
"But we covered three different topics this morning that, I think, after watching the game yesterday, that can improve our chances to win this series. I think if we can execute that it's going to be good for us this week."
From Branham's perspective, the series winner may be the team that simply outworks the other.
"It's just a matter of either picking up the pace, making slight little adjustments or just a matter of sheer will," he said.