By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Bryan Pitton vowed to keep his confidence up even when his playing time went down.
The goaltender was determined to be prepared when needed, and the Stockton Thunder needs him now.
Pitton, 21, will make his second consecutive postseason start when the Thunder plays host to the Ontario Reign at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Stockton Arena in the third game of their best-of-seven series, which is tied 1-1.
Thunder starter Andrew Perugini suffered a leg injury in the second period of the series opener on Friday and was replaced by Pitton. Stockton lost that game 4-3 but came back to beat the Reign 6-5 on Saturday in Pitton’s fourth start since March.
“Bryan came in to a tough situation, having to take over like that, and performed well,” coach Matt Thomas said.
The Thunder has three consecutive home games, meaning it could end the series without having to return to Southern California. Stockton never has advanced out of the first round in its two previous playoff appearances.
Pitton said he’s ready for the challenge.
“I feel confident in the guys, and the guys feel confident in me. That’s all that matters,” Pitton said. “They know I’ll step up, and I know they’ll help me up front.”
Perugini was placed on three-day injured reserve. Parker Van Buskirk will back up Pitton Wednesday.
Thunder captain Matt O’Dette said no matter who minds the net, every player must do his job.
“Pitt has been good, and we have to be good in front of him, just like with any goaltender,” O’Dette said. “We have to look at the big picture here. We all have to do our part. It’s the only way to win in the playoffs.”
Perugini and Pitton were assigned to the Thunder by the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL and shared goaltending duties early in the season. Pitton had his moments, winning four of five games during a stretch in late 2008 and three in a row in January. Perugini went on a torrid streak in the second half of the season, winning a team-record nine consecutive games at one point.
Pitton, who finished the regular season 9-19-3, saw his playing time diminish.
“You want to play, and when you don’t get the opportunity you want, it’s tough,” Pitton said. “But I didn’t complain and just worked hard. When one goalie is hot and you are not getting your shot, there’s nothing you can do about it except keep working and stay ready.”
Wednesday, Pitton will make his fifth start since March and expects to be sharper than he was the first two games.
“You don’t forget how to play, of course, but it is good to play and get going,” Pitton said. “But I’ve always prepared for games as if I was going to start, no matter what.”