After having come back time after time to save their postseason lives, the Thunder emphatically earned its spot in the second round by beating the Las Vegas Wranglers 6-4 in the seventh and final game of the series.
If only the officiating crew led by referee Ryan Murphy had as good a day.
Now, it’s easy to pick on the officials, and the ECHL is also a developmental for officials. But this crew stood out because of what it didn’t do.
The officials didn’t call anything, literally, for most of the game. Vegas was never assessed a penalty, and late in the game Stockton was suddenly hit with three tripping calls. The refs missed a lot, most notably a blatant late hit against Thunder forward Matt Bergland which led to an injury.
Bergland had just put a shot on the Wranglers’ net when Judd Blackwater blindsided with a high, hard hit to the head which knocked Bergland out of the game. Blackwater’s actions were everything that the leagues are trying to get out of the game — it was to the head, against a helpless player and he seemed to leave his feet as he delivered the blow.
But there was not a call. This doesn’t mean it won’t be addressed by the league. In December, Stockton forward Kristians Pelss was suspended 21 games for a slash to the head Bakersfield’s Olivier Dame-Malka even though there was no penalty. My guess is the league will be contacting Blackwater, although any punishment would have to be assessed next season.
A few thoughts on a big win for the Thunder:
* Stockton certainly didn’t look like a team which was shut out twice in this series by Vegas goalie goalie Joe Fallon, who was great most of the series. Ryan Hayes had a hat trick, Ryan Constant delivered another one of his clutch playoff performances and the Thunder thoroughly outplayed Vegas most of the way. A very strong performance when it needed it most.
* How good is the trade which brought Hayes from South Carolina for future considerations looking now? He had four points on Sunday and seven in the series.
* The chances of the Thunder getting any help from Oklahoma City of the AHL is fading. The Barons are currently ranked seventh in the Western Conference, and would have to drop two spots to miss the playoffs. So barring a late collaspe or some unexpected roster moves, this is likely the team Stockton will take into the Alaska series.