Cuda Corner: Gambardella nets OT winner as Cuda comeback falls short

Even in a great season like this one, there’s plenty of work to be done.

It wasn’t pretty, but just when it looked like the San Jose Barracuda were down and out, they managed to make something out of practically nothing.

Despite erasing a two-goal deficit late in the third period, the Barracuda were unable to complete their comeback, dropping a 6-5 contest in overtime at the hands of the Bakersfield Condors. AHL All-Star Joe Gambardella netted the winner at 1:55 of the extra frame, on a snapshot over the left shoulder of Antoine Bibeau to give the Condors their fifth straight victory.

For defenseman Keaton Middleton, who led the Barracuda offensive attack with two goals, it felt as thought the effort wasn’t there.

“We didn’t put a full sixty together, that’s for sure,” Middleton said. “It’s something we need to clean up as we get into the dog days of the season. We definitely want to eliminate the bad habits and get back to what we do well.”

From the way the first period began, a barn burner didn’t seem to be in the cards. Both teams traded chances, but not many found their way to either Bibeau or his Bakersfield counterpart, Stuart Skinner. But with six and a half minutes remaining, the Condors finally broke the ice when winger David Gust’s centering pass into the slot deflected off Rourke Chartier’s skate and past Bibeau’s outstretched pad for the 1-0 lead.

After a power play opportunity for the Barracuda yielded no results, a Keaton Middleton cross-checking infraction put Bakersfield on their own man advantage. The Condors made their sole power play of the night count, when Josh Currie broke through San Jose’s defensive wall, received a silky pass from Cooper Marody and deked out Bibeau for his 17th of the season.

Suddenly down 2-0, the Barracuda needed to get a quick response and just 25 seconds after Currie’s tally, some solid forechecking from Jon Martin and Alexander True behind the Condors’ net freed up Middleton for a one-timer from the left circle. Middleton’s shot ripped right past the glove of Skinner, cutting Bakersfield’s lead in half.

But San Jose’s momentum didn’t last, as during the final minute of the opening period, a mad scramble in front of the Barracuda net put the puck directly on the stick of Tyler Vesel. The former 2014 sixth round pick of the Edmonton Oilers made no mistake, scooping the puck around Bibeau’s pad to restore the two-goal lead before the horn.

Right off the hop in the second period, the Barracuda put Bakersfield on the defensive, and it took just three minutes for Jayden Halbgewachs to set up a sly drop pass to Middleton, who flipped the puck through Skinner’s legs for his second goal of the night. Minutes later, after Keegan Lowe was called for delay of game, some excellent passing by the ‘Cuda’s power play unit set Cavan Fitzgerald up for a wide open shot from the high slot that blew past Skinner to tie the game.

With the game squared up at three, both clubs began to trade chance at either end, but the Condors were getting the majority of the high danger chances. And eventually, in the final five minutes of the middle frame, Bakersfield broke through twice; first on a hard drive to the net by Patrick Russell for his 15th of the year, and a minute later when Marody stole the puck below the San Jose goal line and set up a wide-open Ethan Bear for a one-timer from the hashmarks, giving Bakersfield the 5-3 advantage after 40 minutes of play.

After two periods where the Condors had out-shot the Barracuda 25-19 and caught San Jose’s defense flatfooted with consistency, Roy Sommer’s team completely flipped the script in the third period. The Barracuda dominated Bakersfield in puck possession, out-shooting the Condors by a whopping 19-3 margin.

While Skinner was able to hold the fort for the majority of the period, a San Jose breakout led by Martin set up Jeremy Roy for a shot through two Condors defenders that eluded the netminder, cutting the lead to 5-4 with just six minutes left. Finally, with Bibeau on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute of play, Cavan Fitzgerald made a solo rush into the Bakersfield zone and threw a saucer pass across the crease for trailing Maxim Letunov. Letunov only had to redirect the pass past the sprawling Skinner to tie the game and secure a point for the Barracuda.

While the end result wasn’t exactly what he wanted, Coach Sommer did praise his team’s resiliency in being able to erase two multiple goal deficits. “They know when they’re not going, and they thrive off of momentum shifts,” Sommer said. “When Roy scored that one, you had a feeling we were gonna tie it up. They just have that in them.”

The Barracuda will hit the road for a pair of games in Grand Rapids against the Griffins on Friday and Saturday, with both games starting at 4 p.m. Pacific, before the AHL All-Star break begins on Sunday.