ANCHORAGE – Defenseman Nik Pokulok parked a centering pass by Shawn Weller at the left post to lift the Stockton Thunder to another memorable, come-from-behind victory, 4-3 in sudden death overtime over the Alaska Aces in Game 6 to win the Western Conference Semifinal before 4,868 fans at Sullivan Arena on Tuesday.
Pokulok scored the goal 12:47 left in the first overtime period and the Thunder rallied from down 2-0 in the first period and 3-2 late in regulation to send the Aces into the summer after they captured their third straight Brabham Cup title with the league’s best record.
Andrew Clark tied the game with five seconds left in regulation while Ryan Hayes and Harrison Reed also added goals for the Thunder.
“Credit the guys, credit our leadership and credit inspiring performances from all areas of our team,” said Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. “The guys played outstanding hockey and we dug deep after things looked bleak early on. We’re very proud of them.”
Alaska’s fast start was paced by a pair of goals in 2:41 from Evan Trupp and Chris Clackson, beginning with Trupp’s second chance bid from beneath the hash marks just four minutes into the game. Clackson followed by completing a two-on-two break with Zach Harrison on a backhander for his third goal of the playoffs.
The Thunder turned the tables on Game 5’s fortunes and got a buzzer beater from Reed’s wrister at the left circle, beating Gerald Coleman under the crossbar with 0.2 seconds left on the clock for a 2-1 deficit after one period.
Seconds after Hayes missed on a chance at the Alaska net in the second period, he completed a re-direction off the rush from Clark at 8:06 of the second period to tie the game.
The two teams battled through a tight checking third period and Andy Taranto lifted the Aces to a 3-2 lead late with 2:36 left when he snuck a rolling puck past Olivier Roy from the slot.
But with little time to regroup, the Thunder answered.
With Roy pulled for the extra attacker, Reed belted a one timer off Coleman with less than ten seconds left from the right circle. Clark snuck in for the rebound and put Sullivan Arena into silence with the game tying goal through Coleman’s five hole with five seconds left in regulation.
Roy sustained the Thunder with two key saves early in overtime, including snap shot off the rush by Clackson that Roy stopped with his glove.
The Thunder then generated their transition game for the series closer. Shawn Weller skated into the Aces zone at the right wing and stopped at the base of the right circle. He then whipped a pass to the Aces net and Pokulok, who raced deep into the zone, converted the tape to tape feed past Coleman’s blocker to send the Thunder flying off the bench to celebrate on the Aces’ home ice.
Roy earned the win with 30 saves and is 8-5 in the postseason. Coleman took the loss with 33 stops.
The Thunder will now meet the Idaho Steelheads in the Western Conference Final (a rematch of the 2010 Conference Final) for the right to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals. Game 1 is scheduled for Century Link Arena in Boise on May 3.
THREE STARS: 1. STK – N. Pokulok 2. STK – A. Clark 3. AK – E. Trupp