Ryan Lomberg laughed at the idea he’d let himself, or his team, not finish the job.
Minutes after sparking a 4-1 come-from-behind win over the rival San Jose Barracuda on Feb. 24, the forward who had just potted a pair of goals – one shorthanded and one into an empty net to punctuate the win – was asked about having to fight through Barracuda defencemen on his way to the yawning cage.
“Yeah, they were trying,” he said with a chuckle. “But they weren’t going to stop me, though.”
Seems as though few things can stop a resurgent Heat squad right now, one that has taken advantage of recent cold streaks from teams higher in the standings that has allowed Stockton to climb back into the thick of the playoff race.
The post-game atmosphere could have felt much different had Lomberg not come through in the manner he did, an early shortie in the third to tie the game at one apiece. Minutes later it was Kerby Rychel who lit the lamp for the 21st time on the year with what would prove to be the game-winner, then Lomberg and Spencer Foo added empty-netters to seal the deal.
The win over San Jose meant two more points in the standings, but the comeback against a team Stockton had struggled against all year meant a little more.
Coming into the contest 1-9 in 10 meetings with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate this campaign could have deterred a Heat bench that hadn’t won a game when trailing through two periods since Dec. 29, but the never-say-die Stockton squad delivered on Sunday, the team’s third win in its last four contests.
“We talk a lot about resilience and we’ve shown a lot of resilience in the past this season,” said head coach Cail MacLean. “We’re going to have to be really resilient from here on out. When you look at the standings, that’s the situation we’re in. We talked about that before the game, and that’s the bottom line. But we’re in every hockey game to win it. We just have to take it one game at a time, chip away with our points and make sure we do the right things to get the wins.”
A big factor in Stockton’s climb back into the chase has been Jon Gillies between the pipes, providing a steady backstop for a Heat team that had been inconsistent on the defensive end through most of the season.
The Flames’ third-round pick in the 2012 draft has gotten the nod in six of Stockton’s last seven games and has won four of his last five. After a strong 36-for-37 performance on Sunday, Gillies has an impressive .924 SVP and 2.41 GAA in that span.
“Jon did a really good job of resetting from an early goal and did well throughout,” said MacLean. “A couple flurries in the third period that he stood in for, that’s the difference in the game. He played really well.”
Looking forward, Stockton has a chance to keep climbing with a pair of divisional contests against second place San Diego this weekend, two in a string of seven-straight divisional battles awaiting the Heat.
- Lomberg’s shorthanded marker in Sunday’s game was his second in three games and the third for Stockton over that same span.
- Rychel’s 21 goals on the year is a career high. His previous high was 19, set in 2016-17 with the Toronto Marlies. Rychel now has 12 points (7g,5a) in 11 games against San Jose on the year.
- Stockton has killed 17 of 19 penalties over the last four games, including each of the last 10.
“When you’re in a position where you’re down by more than one it gets tougher to get out of. San Jose’s a good team that way. They’re strong defensively, they’ve got strong goaltending. Jon did a good job of keeping us in it. Once the guys got that first goal and all of a sudden you’re in a tie game and not climbing from behind. (Jon was) a big factor to keep us within one and allow our team to get back in it.” – MacLean on Gillies’ play Sunday
“It’s not something that you expect, but it’s something that’s a huge boost of confidence and a huge boost of adrenaline for the team. I think that the other side of it is the guys did a good job of following that shift up and killing the rest of the penalty. It’s one of those things when you get that and all of a sudden a team can get distracted. I thought the team did a good job of resetting, killing the rest of the 51 seconds of the penalty, and making sure they finished the job they set out to do.” – MacLean on Lomberg’s shorthanded goal
“It’s huge. The morale on the bench, it lifts everybody up. Our kill had a little bit of a rough patch but it’s definitely been coming along. It’s an encouraging sign. Our powerplay has been so good all year that it’s about time we go out there and pull our weight.” – Lomberg on his shorthanded goal and the penalty-kill as a whole
“Unfortunately we’ve put ourselves in a position where there’s more teams in front of us than behind us. The majority of the nights we’re going to be playing teams in front of us in the standings. The character that we’ve got in the room, we’re going to be clawing away and working towards the playoffs every game.” – Lomberg on Stockton’s resilience
“We’ve been playing some good hockey, especially lately. If we lose we were right there. Wins like tonight are big. It shows we know how to win. We’ve kind of teetered on that, been almost right there for most of the year. It’s nice to see us take that step. You’re losing 1-0 against the second-place team going into the third, it would be easy to pack it in. I thought we did well. They pushed in the beginning of the third, we kept it to the other side and then took off. It was good to see. It’s a great group of guys, a lot of fun to play with. The sky’s the limit.” – Gillies on Sunday’s win