By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
Trailing 2-0 after the first period on Saturday night in Las Vegas the Condors were 40 minutes of hockey away from a huge hole — a 2-0 deficit to the Wranglers in a best-of-seven playoff series — when Bakersfield’s top trio kicked into gear.
Painchaud and Derlago scored second-period goals to forge a tie and Derlago got the game winner with 1:36 remaining as the Condors evened the series. Painchaud added two assists, Derlago had an assist and Bonk had two assists.
“I think we relaxed a little bit more,” Painchaud said of the difference after the first period. “We went out and played hockey and had fun and we were able to score some goals.”
That’s exactly what the trio was doing when their play jump-started an improbable run to the playoffs for the Condors. Painchaud, Derlago and Bonk each had 18 points in 11 games as the Condors went 8-2-1 from Feb. 6-24.
None of the three played a full season due to injuries or call-ups to the American Hockey League, but they finished 1-2-3 for the Condors in scoring. Bonk led the way with 82 points in 60 games; Derlago had 77 points in just 49 games and Painchaud finished with 64 points in 57 games. That was good for fifth, sixth and 19th in the league, respectively.
Painchaud missed the final 10 games of the season as he was recalled to Iowa in the AHL (which failed to make the playoffs) and rejoined the Condors in time for two practices before the first playoff game.
“Playoffs are the best time to be playing so it feels great to be back and hopefully we can make a run,” Painchaud said.
Painchaud was playing on the second line in the first playoff game (a 3-1 loss) but Condors coach Marty Raymond switched Mike Wirll and Painchaud for Game 2.
“We didn’t have a good game as a team and felt we were on the road and would change a few things,” Raymond said. “We put Painer back up there to maybe get that first line some confidence and Wirll on the second line to get more power and a right shot on that line.”
“I think it paid off,” Raymond said.
After nine regular-season meetings and two playoff games, there aren’t many secrets between the Condors and Wranglers and Raymond said each team will be trying to make subtle changes to gain an edge.
“Teams have played each other so much there aren’t going to be any surprises,” Raymond said. “There’s always adjustments made by both teams but it’s going to come down to the battles.”
The Wranglers will have a bit of a new look Wednesday as three potent players have returned from extended stints in the AHL — forwards J.D. Watt and Mike Hamilton and defenseman Dan Spang. The three have combined for 38 points in just 57 games for Las Vegas.
“We just have to worry about our game and the way we’re playing,” Painchaud said of the Las Vegas additions. “I don’t think it matters who comes down (from the AHL). I think we just have to come out strong and play a good game.”
And that type of effort, Raymond said, must come from every player on the ice.
“We need three lines to be solid for us to win,” Raymond said. “Sometimes will wins out over skill. It’s always good to have a little more will.”