The Idaho Steelheads have been a resilient team all season long.
Their biggest test lies ahead of them.
Stockton forward Andrew Clark scored the game-winning goal 11 minutes, 39 seconds into overtime to lift the Thunder to a 4-3 win over the Steelheads on Sunday night at CenturyLink Arena. The Thunder have a 2-0 lead in the ECHL Western Conference Finals as the best-of-7 series shifts to Stockton. Game 3 is Wednesday night.
Idaho will have to win at least two of the next three games in California to send the series back to Boise for Game 6, which would be played next Monday.
Weve been a good team all year long, Idaho forward Adrian Foster said. Weve put wins together, streaks together. So why cant we go there and take two or take three?
Steelheads coach Brad Ralph was frustrated but determined after Sundays loss.
The series is far from over, he said. We played a heck of a gamer here tonight and Friday night. I think we deserved a better fate. Thats why we play a seven-game series. Were a heck of a hockey team. We will bounce back.
They bounced back in Game 2, only to come up short in the overtime period.
Stockton struck first with a goal 14 minutes, 24 seconds into the contest, but Idaho forward Austin Smith answered with his seventh goal of the postseason before the first period ended.
Stockton went up 2-1 with the only goal of the second period and then extended its lead to 3-1 with a power-play goal less than a minute into the third.
But then Foster scored two goals to tie it at 3-3. The first came on a nice feed from captain Ben Ondrus after he had won a faceoff in Stocktons zone. With a little more than 5 minutes remaining in regulation, Andrew Carroll tried to curl the puck around from behind the net and it banged off Stockton goalie Olivier Roys leg pad. Foster found the rebound and scored.
Stockton has come back from third-period deficits to win four games in the postseason, and it looked like Idaho might put together a comeback win of its own at that point.
I thought for a second they were going to take a page out of our book, Thunder coach Matt Thomas said. They almost did. They had the momentum, for sure.
But after Roy stymied a couple of big chances in the early stages of overtime, the momentum shifted to Stockton. Then Clark found a rebound in front of the net, and the rookie sealed the win.
They got a break, Idaho defenseman Matt Case said.
It wasnt the Thunders first break of the series, either. Idaho has outshot Stockton 75-50 through the first two games of the series, but has yet to enjoy a lead.
Look at the shots and the scoring chances and how we dominated the game tonight, Ralph said. It seems like we make one mistake and the pucks in the back of the net. Their luck has got to run out here soon, and well be ready to go when it does.
The Steelheads had been 4-1 in overtime games in the postseason, but Stockton won its fifth overtime game of the playoffs, tying an ECHL record.
Youre not going to win all the overtime games, Foster said. Weve got to be better in the first 60 (minutes) and clean some things up, but I think we have it in our room.
The Thunder enjoy a 2-0 lead as they head home, but Thomas said his team wasnt ready to start any celebrations.
Were not going, Hey were heading back home and this is in the bag, he said. That game could have gone the other way. Both games could have.
Still, Idaho knows it needs a game to go its way, starting Wednesday night in Stockton.
Weve got a resilient team, Case said. We look forward to the challenge.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424