Despite squandering a three-goal lead, the Stockton Heat ended their six-game winless streak Saturday night as they defeated the Texas Stars 5-3 in Austin.
After the Stars added a third goal early in the third period to level the score at 3-3, the Heat appeared to be destined for their second overtime period in as many days.
But Stockton tested Texas’s defence throughout the period and was able to break through former first round draft pick goaltender Jack Campbell once more via a redirect by right winger Blair Riley with just over five minutes left in regulation.
After Campbell was pulled in a last-breath attempt by Texas, centre Turner Elson cemented Stockton’s first win since October 21 with his second goal of the night (and the season), an empty-netter, in the final seconds of play.
Riley was named first star of the game for his scoring of the eventual game-winner.
"It was a bit of a broken play. [Drew Shore] got the puck and just threw it to the net," Riley said. "I was just trying to drive through and get some traffic. It hit me in the foot and I just tried to get a piece of my stick on it. Obviously it was a big goal in that state of the game. To be able to comeback from giving up a three-goal lead showed a lot of character for us."
In addition to his assist, Shore paced the Heat with six shots in the contest.
After scoring his first goal of the season late in the final minutes of Friday’s contest in San Antonio, right winger Garnet Hathaway wasted little time obtaining his second as he opened the Heat’s account 4:50 into the first period.
Scores by Austin Carroll and Elson before the first intermission followed Hathaway’s notch. The Heat suddenly found themselves with their largest lead in over a month.
The Stars responded quickly and strongly, outshooting the Heat 15-6 in the second period and tucking two past recently acquired goaltender Kevin Poulin.
Stockton killed all nine penalties on the night with both of Elson’s goals coming shorthanded and assisted by veteran defenceman Aaron Johnson.
"[The penalty kill] was really good," head coach Ryan Huska said. "Obviously you never want to see them tested that much in a game and I thought we needed to do a better job of not taking some of those penalties, but the kill really was great for us tonight on a night where we needed a good road win."
The win came a day after the Heat dropped a 5-4 shootout loss to the AHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, the San Antonio Rampage.
Never leading in Friday’s contest, Stockton drew level for a third time on Garnet Hathaway’s shorthanded goal 16:28 into the third period. As important as the timing of the goal was, it came as a relief to many as it was the right winger’s first point of the season.
"It’s a little bit of a monkey off my back," Hathaway said. "I’ve been working hard and going to the net, so it was nice to get a bounce. It started with [Dustin Stevenson] batting it out of the air and out of the zone, and then [Freddie Hamilton] made a great pass to me in front. I knew what I was doing and I’m glad it worked out."
Stockton came out swinging in the overtime period and tested San Antonio goaltender Roman Will with six shots. None, however, were able to find the back of the net.
Will came up big once more in the second round of the shootout as he deflected a shot by Markus Granlund. The save proved to be the difference as the Rampage would score in all three rounds.
Making his Heat debut, Poulin collected 30 saves, including 12 in the third period.
Despite being unable to earn both points, the team’s efforts pleased Huska, who saw progress.
"The offense is good," Huska said. "We needed to generate more than one or two goals, which I think we’ve been trending towards over the last little while, so seeing guys score hopefully we’re feeling a little bit more comfortable with the offensive side of their game."
The Heat (3-5-0-2) return home where they’ll face San Diego Wednesday night at 8:00 MT.