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By Mike Griffith/The Bakersfield Californian
BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
They've been down by a goal and came back to win. Same for two-goal deficits.
But until midway through Game 5 of the ECHL Western Conference semifinals in Stockton on Saturday night, the Condors had never faced a three-goal deficit.
HOME GAMES IN NEXT ROUND
Bakersfield vs. Alaska
GAME 3 -- 7 p.m. on May 23
GAME 4 -- 7 p.m. on May 24
GAME 5 -- 7 p.m. on May 25
No problem for the cardiac Condors.
The Condors scored five unanswered goals to beat the Thunder 5-3 and advance to the Western Conference finals for the first time in team history.
It is the fourth time in 10 playoff games this season that the Condors have been trailing entering the third period and went on to win.
"We've talked all playoff long about having the belief you can win the hockey game," Condors coach Troy Mann said. "We've been down by a goal and even two goals, but (never) three. Hat's off to the guys in the locker room. They did a great job."
Goals by captain Joel Broda and Chase Schaber 1:15 apart late in the second quieted a suddenly nervous Thunder crowd of 3,385, that had only moments early been on their feet cheering as Stockton scored its third goal.
"We knew if we could get a couple before the period was over we had a chance to make it a game," Broda said.
The third period was total domination from the Condors with Ryan Watson emerging as the man of the hour.
He tied the game at 4:37, put the Condors up 4-3 with a shot from behind the goal line at 6:46 and sealed the win with an empty-netter with 31 seconds left.
"The kid is real motivated to win and is playing fabulous hockey," Mann said of Watson. "It's great to see him get rewarded with some goals."
Bakersfield, which started the season 1-10-1, has now won 14 of its last 17 games, including the final seven regular-season games.
"It's unbelievable how far this group has come," Broda said. " It's amazing. All the guys stuck together. Things weren't looking great. We kept battling, sticking together progressing and getting better and getting better and creating that team identity."
Now the team faces a formidable opponent in the Alaska Aces, who won the regular season championship and breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
Games 1 and 2 are in Anchorage on Friday and Saturday nights.
Mann said wrapping up the series against Stockton in five games and not having to play on Tuesday and even Wednesday was huge.
"We talked about it before the game, (how) it was important to try and finish the series up," Mann said. "The first two rounds you need to try and finish teams off when you can because of the proper rest. (Alaska is) sitting there again, waiting again so if you think about a Game 6 or 7, that puts you right behind the eight ball. We've got some guys banged up. (Chris) Collins didn't play and some other guys could use some rest.
"And it gives the coaching staff some time to watch some video and prepare for Alaska and be truly ready. Not only as a team physically and mentally, but the coaching staff having the guys ready for what they're going see from Alaska on Friday night."
Broda said the Condors will be ready.
"Right now we have the feeling in the room we don't care who we play; we're going to go out there and play our game," he said. "We have the belief if we stick to our plans we can beat anyone in the league.
"They're a great team. They finished first in conference. They've been playing great hockey in the playoffs but we're a pretty confident group right now, too. We're the underdogs and looking forward to the challenge."