By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Parker Van Buskirk had a different perspective on his performance than the rest of the Stockton Thunder.
He talked about the one goal he allowed, but his teammates and head coach marveled at all the shots he stopped.
Van Buskirk had 38 saves and shut down the Las Vegas Wranglers 5-1 at Stockton Arena on Thursday in the third game of the best-of-seven ECHL Pacific Division finals. A crowd of 4,237 watched the Thunder take a 2-1 lead in the series.
Ryan Huddy had two goals and an assist for the Thunder, which harassed the Wranglers with stingy defense and hard hits. But Stockton coach Matt Thomas was clear about why he thought the Thunder won.
“We played well in many areas, but (Van Buskirk) was the difference-maker,” Thomas said. “What do you say about him? I thought we gave up too many shots, and I thought they outplayed us in the first period despite us having a 1-0 lead. But Van Buskirk did everything you could ask of him.”
Van Buskirk, a 21-year-old rookie, was making his seventh consecutive start. He made a sparkling save with about 30 seconds left in the second period when he blocked a tremendous slap shot by the Wranglers’ Dan Riedel. He had several more impressive stops, including when he kicked away a shot by Adam Miller of Las Vegas with 35.2 seconds remaining in the game.
Van Buskirk was satisfied, but convinced he should have handled a shot by Jason Dest in the third period that produced the Wranglers’ only goal.
“I thought I could have had that, and you are always learning and trying to get better,” Van Buskirk said. “The defense was tremendous around me. They cleared rebounds and got me out of trouble. I think as a team we played well.”
Stockton grabbed the 1-0 edge in the first period when Garet Hunt deflected a shot by Huddy past Las Vegas goalie John DeCaro. Craig Valette scored the first of the Thunder’s two power-play goals early in the second period, and Huddy had a goal with 7:37 left in the period.
Huddy scored again just 31 seconds into the third, and Stockton’s Damian Surma followed Dest’s score with a power-play goal to make it 5-1.
“Our goalie was fantastic, and I think this was our best game of the series,” Thunder forward James Bates said. “I think this was a complete effort.”
Bates had two assists and was involved in a fight with J.D. Watt of Las Vegas after the Thunder’s Judd Blackwater left the game following a hit from Watt. Blackwater did not return, and there was no update on his condition after the contest.