In complete control of the game and their ECHL Western Conference quarterfinal series against Stockton early in the third period of Game 6 Friday night in California, the Wranglers completely unraveled down the stretch.
A win away from clinching the series and leading 3-0 against a team it had held scoreless in 10 of the previous 11 periods, Las Vegas inexplicably allowed five unanswered goals to the Thunder, including four in the final 7:37, en route to a shocking 5-3 loss at Stockton Arena.
The Thunder’s stunning comeback victory forced a winner-take-all Game 7, which will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday in Stockton.
“We didn’t deserve to win,” Las Vegas coach Ryan Mougenel said in a text message after the game. “We will regroup and give it our all Sunday.”
Sean Wiles scored his first goal of the series for the Wranglers at 4:25 of the third period to make it 3-0.
Andrew Clark ignited the Thunder’s rally 30 seconds later, beating Joe Fallon to make it 3-1 and snap a scoreless skid of nearly 2½ hours (147:22).
Harrison Reed made it 3-2 with 7:37 left, on Stockton’s second power-play goal in 24 chances in the series, and Thunder agitator Garet Hunt tied it 85 seconds later on his first goal of the series.
Defenseman Daniel Gibb scored with 3:20 left to give Stockton a 4-3 lead — its first of the series in regulation — and Shawn Weller added an empty-net goal with 21 seconds left to cap the comeback.
The Thunder, who also came from behind to beat Las Vegas 3-2 in overtime in each of the series’ first two games, outshot the Wranglers 50-21, including 36-11 in the final two periods.
Las Vegas, which had dominated the previous three games at home — winning all three by a combined score of 11-2, including a pair of 3-0 shutouts in Games 3 and 5 — scored first for the sixth straight time and netted all three goals on a power play that was one of the league’s worst in the regular season.
Carlo Finucci beat Olivier Roy (18 saves) 4:19 into the game for his third goal of the series after scoring only four in 27 regular-season games for the Wranglers.
Defenseman Marc Cantin assisted on Finucci’s score and then made it 2-0 with 1:32 left in the first.
After starting the series 0-for-11 with a man advantage, Las Vegas has converted six of its last 16 power plays, finishing 3-for-5 on Friday.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.
STOCKTON — 5
LAS VEGAS — 3
■ KEY: The Thunder exploded for five unanswered goals in the third period, including four in the final 7:37, to erase a 3-0 deficit and force Game 7.
■ NEXT: Wranglers at Thunder, Game 7, 4 p.m. Sunday, Stockton Arena