When leading after two periods this season, the Wranglers were virtually unbeatable, going 21-0-1.
However, in that same scenario in the first game of the playoffs Friday night at Stockton, Las Vegas couldn’t close the deal.
The Thunder struck for three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Wranglers to take a 1-0 lead in the ECHL Western Conference quarterfinals at Stockton Arena in Stockton, Calif.
Matt Bergland scored at 3:49 of overtime to lift the Thunder, carrying the puck over the blue line before faking a slap shot and then beating Joe Fallon on his stick side.
“It was one of those things. It’s a shot in overtime I’m sure Falls wanted to have back,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said. “It had eyes. It was off the rush. It’s unfortunate. It happens. We’ll be a better team (today).”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. today in Stockton.
“I liked a lot of things we did tonight. I’m just not happy with the outcome,” Mougenel said. “One thing it’s done is build a fire in the guys.”
Stockton scored two goals in 1:43 early in the third period to tie it.
Both goals were deflections of shots from the point.
Harrison Reed redirected a blast by Tony DeHart at the 3:23 mark to make it 2-1 and Shawn Boutin deflected a blast by Bergland from the blue line at 5:06 to tie it 2-2.
“It’s playoff hockey,” Mougenel said. “We missed two assignments in the defensive zone. That’s a little uncharacteristic of our team.”
Fallon stopped 27 of 30 shots for the defending Western Conference champion Wranglers, who went 0-for-4 on the power play.
Las Vegas was in control for the first two periods — getting goals from a pair of unlikely sources in Geoff Paukovich and Matt Campanale.
Paukovich, who only had five goals in 52 regular-season games, beat Olivier Roy (29 saves) at 3:22 of the first period on a goal set up by Mike Madill and Adam Huxley.
Campanale, a defenseman who only had four goals in 68 regular-season games, made it 2-0 at 12:29 of the second, scoring from the left circle shortly after Stockton killed a man disadvantage. Sean Wiles and Andrew Sarauer assisted on the play.
Eight of the nine meetings this season between the fourth-seeded Thunder and fifth-seeded Las Vegas have been decided by one goal and four have gone to overtime.
“They’ve got to beat us three more times to win the series,” Mougenel said. “It’s going to be a long series.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.