What a difference two weeks can make.
Talking to media on March 16 following a disappointing weekend against Tucson – knowing where his team stood in the playoff picture and the challenge that was awaiting the Heat – Cail MacLean laid out the situation with a blunt calmness.
“All we can do is control what we can control,” he said. “We have to reset and refocus.”
What MacLean talked, the Heat have walked.
Following a SoCal sweep of San Diego and Ontario over the weekend, the Heat are now 4-0 since falling to the Roadrunners with a pair of wins over the Iowa Wild last week followed by a 2-1 win over the Gulls on Saturday and a 4-3 shootout victory against the Reign on Sunday.
The blood pressure for Heat loyalists may have risen over that time, as all four have come in dramatic fashion.
Over the four-game stretch, Stockton has seen:
- Matthew Phillips’ game-winning goal against Iowa on March 22 with 2:10 remaining in regulation;
- Curtis Lazar’s game-winning goal against Iowa on March 23 with 53.6 seconds remaining in regulation;
- Juuso Valimaki’s game-winning goal against San Diego on Saturday with 13 seconds remaining in regulation;
- Lazar game-tying goal against Ontario on Sunday with 1:06 left in regulation
No such thing as a free lunch, after all.
“We don’t have a choice at this time of year,” said Lazar following Sunday’s thriller. “We’re still in tough, but our hopes aren’t dead. Credit to everyone. Everyone stepped up and we found a way. It took a full game, but we got the job done.”
The turnaround has been catalyzed by stellar goaltending from Jon Gillies, and this weekend from Tyler Parsons as well, who shared duties between the pipes to the tune of 70 saves on 74 shots faced.
It has also come from a resurgent penalty-kill unit that has allowed just one goal over the past 18 chances, from steady defensive play and timely scoring.
The cardiac kids have enjoyed a recent run of success that matches their longest win streak of the season, but the climb ahead remains steep. Stockton currently sits nine points back of the teams tied for the last playoff spot in the Pacific Division with 11 points left on the board. They need wins, and they need help.
But no one can say Stockton hasn’t held up its end of the bargain.
- Parsons made 36 saves on 39 shots and three stops on three shots in the shootout Sunday in his first appearance since Feb. 13.
- Gillies has gone 9-4-0-1 in his last 14 starts, including a .932 save percentage in those nine wins.
- Stockton enjoyed its most successful month of the season in March with a 7-3-0-1 record.
- The Heat have set a new team record for goals in a season with 220, besting their previous high of 212 set during the 2016-17 season. Stockton ranks second in the AHL with 3.51 goals per game.
- Stockton is 10-4-0-1 over its last 15 games.
“It was ugly at times but we found a way to get it done. A lot of credit goes to Tyler Parsons for coming up with a big game for us, his first game in a long time. He’s worked really hard in the interim, and everyone’s pretty proud of him for that.” – MacLean on Sunday’s game
“It was a great game overall. The boys played great in front of me. It just feels great to get back in the swing of things. I’ve been working hard in practice for that last two months or so, just been grinding away, I got a start and got a win. That’s all I can ask for, and I’m just going to keep working harder.” – Tyler Parsons
“Our power play was going all night. I thought we had some pretty good looks. We pulled the goalie, had the extra guy, just got it in front and I was Johnny on the spot.” – Lazar on his game-tying goal Sunday
“We did a really good job of not folding when we fell down 1-0. Spencer Foo came up with a big play, a short-side goal and a seeing-eye puck, but getting the puck on net. That settled us down a little bit. Finding that one late was big – Juuso had a strong night overall, he was always around it. It seemed like a matter of time for him.” – MacLean on Saturday’s game
“We’re just focused on ourselves. We’ve got to keep playing. We can’t focus too much on other teams or what’s happening around the league. We just have to keep playing. The last little bit here, the Iowa games and this game, has been good. The boys still have some belief in our group and that’s all we need.” – Valimaki on Stockton’s mentality before his call-up