By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
The Thunder proved it can draw a winning hand in Las Vegas, and its reward is a trip to the seventh game of the ECHL Pacific Division finals.
Facing elimination, the Thunder received another strong game from goaltender Parker Van Buskirk, and Kenny MacAulay delivered the winning goal late in the waning moments of the second period as Stockton beat the Wranglers 3-1 in Game 6 on Tuesday at Orleans Arena. The decisive game in the best-of-seven series will be at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Las Vegas.
“It was a hell of a game, and we gave ourselves a chance to win this series,” Thunder coach Matt Thomas said.
“We got to the seventh game, and now we have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The Thunder had lost its previous five meetings with the Wranglers in Las Vegas this season, including a 4-2 defeat on Monday that put its season in jeopardy. Stockton responded by outshooting the Wranglers 37-23 and scoring in the final 30 seconds of each period.
Van Buskirk made 22 saves, and the defense in front of him kept the Las Vegas shooters off balance.
A crowd of about 150 Thunder supporters in the King’s Room at Stockton Arena watched as Van Buskirk and the Thunder fought off the Wranglers’ desperate assault in the final moments of the contest and started celebrating when Cory Urquhart iced the game with an empty-net goal off a pass from Damian Surma with 17 seconds left.
“I was pretty optimistic that they could win (on Tuesday),” said Jim Wilson of Stockton, who wore his Thunder jersey to the viewing party at the arena. “They played a great game.”
Wilson said he is likely to attend the viewing of Game 7. Admission is $5 for the public, $3 for season-ticket holders.
Stockton controlled the action for most of the first period but didn’t have anything to show for its effort until, with 14 seconds left, forward Craig Valette took a pass from Cleve Kinley behind the Las Vegas goal, moved around Las Vegas goalie Glenn Fisher‘s left side and stuck the puck into the corner of the net.
The Wranglers tied the game on Kelly Czuy‘s power-play goal 2:24 into the second period, but the Thunder regained the advantage with 26 seconds left in the period when MacAulay ripped a 30-foot slap shot past Fisher for his first goal of the postseason.
“It always gives you some momentum when you can get a goal like that at the end of the period,” MacAulay said. “It just gives you a boost.”
The Thunder finds out today whether the Game 6 victory gave it enough of a boost to move into the National Conference finals. The winner gets a matchup with the Alaska Aces, who defeated the Victoria Salmon Kings in the other semifinal in six games.
“I would like to think this win gave us an advantage, but you have to forget everything in the past,” MacAulay said. “It’s win or go home.
“Everything is on the line.”