Condors show their potential in thrilling 4-3 shootout win versus Firebirds

The Bakersfield Condors prove they can compete with the best, as they defeat the Pacific Division-leading Coachella Valley Firebirds at home on Friday night.

Coachella Valley Firebirds hosts Bakersfield Condors at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., on
Coachella Valley Firebirds hosts Bakersfield Condors at Acrisure Arena in Palm Desert, Calif., on / Taya Gray/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY

When the Condors opened the 2023-24 campaign with a 3-2 win on the road versus the Firebirds, it alluded to the talent and potential on the roster. After all, it was a victory over a team which last season went all the way to Game Seven of the Calder Cup final in their first year of existence.

At the same time, it was the first game of the season, which is when teams are still finding their rhythm. Beating the same team again on Friday night at the business end of the AHL regular season, gives more indication of what the Condors are capable of.

That's because the Firebirds entered the contest with a clear advantage as the top team in the Pacific Division and overall in the Western Conference. However, with a 4-3 win via a shootout, the Condors claimed their third victory in seven games this season versus their divisional rivals, and their first at home.

The shootout proved to be a nerve-racking affair, with neither team managing to score in the first four rounds. Fortunately for the Condors, Seth Griffith finally broke through in the fifth round and secured the second point.

Looking good in the first

In the early going, a shootout seemed like the last thing the Condors would need, as they took a 2-0 lead inside nine minutes of the first period. It was all setting up to be a comfortable night, or at least as comfortable as a hockey game can be.

The Condors got things going at the 4:38 mark, through Lane Pederson's 20th goal of the AHL season. Pederson was set up by Griffith's team-leading 37th assist of the campaign from behind the net, with him firing home the one-timer for the early 1-0 lead.

The lead was doubled just over four minutes later, with that man Griffith once again involved with the primary helper. He played Raphael Lavoie through on goal, for him to score his team-best 25th of the season.

The momentum turned in the second period, as the Firebirds made their expected push to get back into the game. They dominated the shot count 16-10, and scored twice themselves to make it 2-2 through 40 minutes.

The Firebirds' first goal came at the 9:13 mark of the second period, as Tucker Robertson scored his fifth goal of the season. Olivier Rodrigue did initially make a save, but in the followup scrum in front of the goal, the puck somehow trickled past him.

It looked like the Condors were going to cling onto their lead through two periods, before the Firebirds tied the game with just 36 seconds remaining. John Hayden set up Cameron Hughes on the break, to smash home his 20th goal of the campaign.

The Condors would have the better of the play in the third, as they outshot the Firebirds 13-9. And yet it was the visitors who took their first lead of the game just past the halfway point of the period, as Logan Morrison set up Luke Henman from behind the net.

A strange goal

However, the lead would last a mere 17 seconds, before the Condors tied things up again at 3-3, with one of the most bizarre incidents you will ever see. Alex Peters was credited with a goal after a centring pass from long range into an empty net on a delayed penalty, as Firebirds goalie Ales Stezka came too far out of his own net and couldn't get back in time.

The Firebirds had the best chance of overtime inside the first minute, but Rodrigue did well to save a shot from Kole Lind, resulting in the game going to the aforementioned shootout. The Condors goalie put in a fine effort on the night, as he saved 34 of the 37 shots he faced.

From our perspective Griffith was the best player on the night for the Condors, and yet he didn't take home any of the game's Three Stars. Regardless, he now leads the team with 50 total points and is 13th overall in the AHL in scoring.

Postgame, coach Colin Chaulk discussed the outcome with the media. He said: "It's nice to get a weird one and nice to have a bounce go your way, because we felt like we did a pretty good job managing that momentum. And it's pretty exciting when the goaltender stops every shot in the shootout, Seth does his thing and here we are with two points."

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With the win the Condors improve to 34-22-4 and while remaining fifth in the Pacific Division, they are only four points behind second place with still 12 games to play. Next up they will travel to Ontario to play the Reign on Sunday afternoon, who are one place and one point ahead of them in the standings.

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