In what has become a familiar sight around Stockton Arena, Curtis Lazar was all smiles after potting yet another game-winner.
“We’re not done yet.”
If this past weekend was any indication, Lazar’s declaration of the Heat’s desire to make life uncomfortable for the teams ahead of them in the standings rings all too true.
Hosting the Iowa Wild, which entered the weekend with a record of 34-19-7-5 and third place in the Central Division, Stockton dug deep to win a pair of wire-to-wire games – Matthew Phillips’ game-winning goal with 2:10 left on Friday and Lazar’s with just 53.6 ticks on the clock Sunday to complete a weekend sweep.
It would’ve been easy to shell up and ride out the schedule, Stockton entering the weekend licking its wounds from a pair of losses last week to Tucson, who found breathing room for fifth in the Pacific with an eight-point swing on the Heat’s home ice – but that’s just not this squad’s style.
“The team has found a way to stick with it,” said head coach Cail MacLean following Sunday’s win. “We know that the window is small, but we also know all we can do is handle our end of the bargain. Guys have found a way to be coming from behind and fighting through or jump out to leads. We’ve been staying with it and playing the right way.”
Friday’s contest was all about Buddy Robinson, who registered four points – two goals and two assists – while two unlikely heroes emerged in the latter contest against the Wild as John McCarron scored his first two AHL goals and defenseman Rob Hamilton netted the game-tying goal five minutes into the third period.
The weekend saw a pair of new faces – Mason Morelli and Sebastian Vidmar – work their way into the lineup, getting their feet wet in the professional game after wrapping up their collegiate careers.
So Stockton is riding high after not only getting contributions up and down the lineup but also receiving help from rinks around the country. Taking a look at the standings, the Heat are chasing San Jose, which sits in third, and Colorado, currently occupying the fourth and final Pacific Division postseason slot. Last week both the Barracuda and Eagles went 0-1-1, allowing the Heat to make up at least some ground.
There’s more work to be done, sure, but as MacLean preached – the Heat are holding up their end of the bargain.
– The Heat wrapped up the season series with Iowa with a record of 3-0-1-0 and have earned at least a point in all six all-time meetings with the Wild (5-0-1-0).
– Curtis Lazar’s game-winning goal on Sunday was his team-leading fifth of the season.
– Stockton held the Wild scoreless on eight power plays over the weekend. As of Monday, Iowa is second in the AHL on the man-advantage, clicking at 23.8-percent.
– Tyler Graovac surpassed his career high for goals in a season with his 22nd of the year on an empty-netter to seal the deal on Friday’s win. His previous high of 21 came in 2014-15 while he was playing for the Iowa Wild.
– Jon Gillies was solid once again for Stockton over the weekend, earning a pair of wins as he has now racked up 13-straight starts. Gillies turned away 62 of 68 shots faced (.912 SVP) in the pair of games against Iowa.
“I just have fun with it. If it’s the first shift or the last shift, my mentality doesn’t really change. I think a lot of guys, when the going gets tough or the clock is running out they get a little nervous, a little stressed at times. I just try to keep it calm and cool. It was a great play by Buddy (Robinson), to get that whole shift going. I thought we had an outstanding game with (Glenn Gawdin), a good, hard-working game. To get rewarded, I was just Johnny on the spot.” – Curtis Lazar on his game-winner Sunday.
“(Lazar) is a big boost (for the team). He just does it the right way. He prepares like a pro and he plays like a pro. He plays hard. He demands a lot from his teammates, and it raises the level of our overall game.” – Cail MacLean on the effect Lazar has when he’s in the lineup.
“It’s a monkey off my back. I’ve been playing for this moment for my whole career. It was nice to get one, then it was definitely nice to get two right away. It’s a good win for us. It was a do-or-die game, and Lazar with a great shot at the end to put us over.” – John McCarron on his first two AHL goals Sunday.
“It’s definitely nice, I’ve been feeling I’d break out sooner or later. I’ve been feeling good on the ice. It’s just good to get it in a win. Every game means a lot right now. At this time of the season we need every point we can get. We’re still alive for the playoffs and we’re not going to be denied.” – Buddy Robinson on his four-point night Friday.
“It comes and goes, the offense. You can’t get worried about if it’s going in or not. I think I’ve been playing the right way for the most part, and eventually it’s going to come. You’ve just got to stick with it. It obviously feels good, and it’s a good feeling to get a big goal at the end.” – Matthew Phillips on his game-winner Friday.