It's late here, gotta pack up and bolt, so here's the game story that will be in Sunday's dead-trees edition of the ADN:
Eyebrow-raising moments abounded -- from a ninja kick save for the ages to an improbable breakaway and even a long-range crossbar kisser at the buzzer ending regulation – but Saturday night’s delicious ECHL playoff hockey game at Sullivan Arena ended on a note of normalcy.
Chris D’Alvise delivered a dagger.
D’Alvise’s power-play bullet 9 minutes, 19 seconds into overtime earned the Stockton Thunder a come-from-behind 3-2 win over the Alaska Aces and evened the ECHL Western Conference semifinal series at one game apiece.
Game 3 in the best-of-7 series, which opened with Alaska’s come-from-behind 2-1 win Friday, is Wednesday night in Stockton. Games 4 and 5 also are in Stockton, so the Aces must win at least once in California to reclaim home-ice advantage and get the series back to Sullivan.
D’Alvise bagged an overtime goal just 17 seconds into extra time to beat Colorado – 3-2 again – in Game 2 of Stockton’s first-round, three-game sweep of the Eagles. Saturday, he whistled a dart from the left circle over the glove of Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman (26 saves) and just off the junction where the crossbar and right post meet to cash in on Stockton’s second power play of overtime.
The Thunder received the man advantage after Aces defenseman Tyson Marsh was issued a minor penalty for boarding Jesse Fratkin.
“You don’t usually get a power play in overtime, let along two,’’ D’Alvise said.
Stockton has won six straight OT playoff games dating back to 2010. Alaska’s streak of three straight OT playoff games, which dated back to 2009, was snapped.
The old saying is a best-of-7 series never really kicks into gear until a road team wins – so, series on.
“It goes without saying it was a lot more important for us to score that goal than for them,’’ D’Alvise said. “They won’t say that – they want to win every game. But going back to our place at 1-1 is better than knowing you’re down 2-0 and have to win three games just to get the series back here.’’
For the Aces, who last season blitzed through three rounds of the playoffs with a 12-1 record to seize the second Kelly Cup in franchise history, this time around has been much more difficult through two games.
“Teams are gunning for us – we’re the defending champs,’’ said Aces defenseman Brandon Gentile, who opened the scoring. “We’ve really got to clamp down. We just can’t run over people with a flip of the switch.’’
Among the odd moments in the game was a Coleman save in the second period after he went behind his net to retrieve his stick following chaos in his crease. But the play transitioned in a hockey heartbeat and Coleman, skating back to his net from behind it, discovered Jordan Fulton blowing in on a breakaway.
The 6-foot-5 Coleman leaped into his crease feet-first and got the blade of his left skate on Fulton’s shot to keep the game scoreless and leave the announced crowd of 5,561 slack-jawed yet, simultaneously, elated and roaring.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,’’ said Aces veteran captain Brian Swanson. “Unbelievable. He used every inch of his frame on that.’’
As the final seconds ticked off the clock to end the second period – the score was tied 2-2 – Stockton’s Max Campbell inexplicably got a breakaway. Coleman made a pad save on Campbell’s attempted buzzer beater.
And with the score still tied in the waning seconds of regulation, Aces defenseman Steve Ward launched a rocket from the neutral zone that Stockton goalie Olivier Roy (38 saves, stellar) clearly did not see because he was screened by a teammate. Ward’s shot ticked off the crossbar – but it appeared a linesman was poised to rule the play offside because an Aces player had not yet cleared the Stockton zone.
The game long went scoreless, just like Friday, when the teams were scoreless through two periods. Saturday, the Aces used goals 51 seconds apart from Gentile on a rebound and Nick Mazzolini on a seeing-eye, 58-foot wrister that eluded Roy to jump to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period.
But the Thunder answered quickly and emphatically – Campbell scored three minutes after Mazzolini and former league Most Valuable Player Kevin Baker struck two minutes after that to forge a 2-2 tie.
“We rallied,’’ said Stockton coach Matt Thomas, “and the best part is we allowed what was somewhat frustration (trailing by two goals) to motivate us.’’
The series now moves to Stockton, where the fans are rowdy and make for an atmosphere much like that inside Sullivan.
“Great barn, great fans – it’s like playing here,’’ Gentile said.
And the Aces hit the road knowing they need at least one win in California after Saturday’s tough loss. They also know they need to find a way to score on the power play – they went 0 for 3 Saturday and have failed to score on 26 straight man advantages dating back to the regular season.
“It won’t sit easy in the stomach tonight,’’ Swanson said. “But we’ll wake up tomorrow and it’s a new day.’’