Strong special-teams play, a balanced offensive attack and a solid performance by goalie Tyler Bunz were enough to bring an end to a couple of winless streaks for the Stockton Thunder on Thursday night (Dec. 27).
By beating the Bakersfield Condors 4-2 in front of 3,332 spectators at Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield (CA), the Thunder snapped a three-game winless stretch as a team and let Bunz taste victory for the first time in nine starts.
On the way to the victory, the Thunder scored two power-play goals in four attempts, went a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, had 10 different players produce at least a point and capitalized on a 29-save effort by Bunz, who was 0-5-3 in his past eight outings.
“Our power-play stepped up, our penalty kill was real good, we spread things around offensively and Bunz was a difference-maker,” Thunder Coach Matt Thomas summarized by telephone after the game. “We played well.”
While the Thunder (16-9-6) got back on track by winning, the Condors (7-21-3) suffered their seventh consecutive defeat and ninth in their past 10 games. The teams will meet again at the same location on Friday night.
Toni Rajala, Matt Bergland, Teigan Zahn and Phil Mangan accounted for Stockton’s goals, and David Toews and Levi Nelson scored for Bakersfield.
The Thunder enjoyed a 19-8 advantage in shots in the first period and held a 2-1 lead at the first intermission thanks to power-play goals by Rajala and Bergland.
Despite the large differential in shots, Stockton faced a 1-0 deficit after Toews scored his second goal of the season with slightly more than five minutes remaining in the first period. The Thunder climbed out of the hole quickly, however, as Rajala and Bergland netted goals 34 seconds apart after Stockton was presented with a two-man advantage because of penalties against Bakersfield’s Olivier Dame-Malka and Erik Burgdoerfer.
Rajala’s goal was his team-leading 17th of the season and came off assists from Yannick Riendau and Harrison Reed with barely more than three minutes remaining before the first break. The goal by Rajala killed the penalty to Dame-Malka, but Burgdoerfer was still in the penalty box when Bergland scored. Gabriel Levesque and Tony DeHart had assists on Bergland’s goal, which was his fourth of the season.
“It was important that we scored on both sides of that 5-on-3,” Thomas said. “That really got us going.”
Stockton’s advantage grew to 3-1 when Zahn scored his third goal of the season off an assist from Bergland almost eight minutes into the second period, and the Thunder carried that lead into the second intermission.
Mangan gave the Thunder a 4-1 cushion not quite two minutes into the third period, when he scored his eighth goal of the season off assists from Mike Little, who was playing in his 100th ECHL game, and Jesse Fratkin.
The Condors cut their deficit to 4-2 when Nelson scored his ninth goal of the season with almost 12 minutes remaining, but Bunz closed the door the rest of the way.
With the victory, Bunz improved his overall record to 9-7-3. Bakersfield goalie Brian Stewart made 34 saves, but fell to 2-11-2.
After playing in Bakersfield again on Friday, the Thunder will return home for a Saturday night game against the Las Vegas Wranglers at Stockton Arena.
The box score from Thursday’s game can be viewed here: