Concluding a stretch of six games played over a nine-day span, the Stockton Heat pushed through early-game struggles and feelings of exhaustion to defeat the Bakersfield Condors 3-1 and the Texas Stars 7-6 over the weekend at Stockton Arena.
Left winger Kenny Agostino broke a 1-1 draw early in the third period of Sunday’s tilt with the Condors on a power-play goal fed by defenceman Jakub Nakladal. Agostino hammered home the one-timer from the point for his sixth goal of the season after Nakladal caught opposing goaltender Laurent Brossoit off-guard with a last moment pass.
The Heat never looked back as centre Derek Grant secured the win with his second goal of the contest, scored on an empty net in the final minutes of play.
"Every win is big at this point in the season when we’re trying to claw our way back into the standings," head coach Ryan Huska said. "For the most part I liked the way we played tonight. We had a good commitment to our own zone tonight and we were able to score a timely goal on the power play, which has been something we’ve looked for all year."
Grant paced the Heat with ten shots while increasing his team-lead in goals to fourteen with the pair. He currently sits three off the pace of the league leader despite having played in sixteen fewer contests.
The win came less than 24 hours after a game that saw twelve goals scored in regulation as the Heat overcame two three-goal deficits to defeat the Texas Stars via a shootout Saturday night.
Down 6-3 late in the second period, the Heat rallied with three goals in less than four minutes. After Freddie Hamilton secured a power-play goal with under twenty seconds remaining in the period, Stockton came out of the gates hot in the third period with Turner Elson collecting his fourth goal of the season on a rebound before left winger Bryce Van Brabant tied the game on a one-timer from the high slot to extend his scoring streak to three games.
A remaining scoreless sixteen minutes of regulation play and subsequent overtime period meant the winner would be decided via shootout. Elson, once again, came up big when it mattered most, nabbing the winner in the fifth round.
"That was a big power play we had late there and we needed those goals," Elson said. "Once we got those couple goals in the third, [the Texas Stars] seemed to get tight on the other side and they played back a little, giving us more room for opportunities on them. We just kept pushing and pushing and they kept falling back. That’s a big win for us."
The teams wasted no time trading goals with Bill Arnold’s fifth goal of the year sandwiched in between two Texas tallies in the opening three minutes of play, the second of which prompted Heat head coach Ryan Huska to replace staring goaltender Joni Ortio with Kent Simpson.
The Finnish netminder received chance for redemption upon being inserted back in goal for the start of the third period. Ortio made nine saves in the final 25 minutes of play and stopped four of five Texas attempts in the shootout.
"It’s all about regrouping," Ortio said. "It’s no different than if I had stayed in. Those two goals were behind me and there wasn’t anything I could do about it at that point. It really is exactly the same thing I would’ve done had I stayed in."
Grant took thirteen shots on goal (a season-high for a Stockton player) and found his way onto the scorer's sheet in the waning minutes of the first period for the Heat’s second notch of the night.
In addition to his first period netter, Arnold grabbed his sixth goal of the season in the second period and assisted on Van Brabant’s game-tying effort in the third. Nakladal assisted on three goals to earn first star honors.
The Heat (12-14-0-2) are back in action Wednesday when they visit the San Jose Barracuda. The opening puck is scheduled to drop at 8:30 p.m. MT.
Note: Goaltender Kevin Poulin returned from a kneecap injury sustained in late November and served as Ortio’s backup on Sunday. The Heat loaned goalie Kent Simpson to their ECHL affiliate, the Adirondack Thunder, on Monday.