Roadrunners Edged in Bakersfield as Pacific's Playoff Race Thickens
Despite their valiant comeback efforts, the Roadrunners fell just short to the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday night at Rabobank Arena, suffering a 4-3 loss.
With the defeat, Tucson remains at fifth-place and one point out of a playoff spot with two games remaining on its regular season schedule, both to be played this coming weekend at home against the San Diego Gulls.
"Unfortunately close isn't good enough right now, it's a bummer but fate is still in our hands if you look around the league," said captain Dakota Mermis. "So we put it behind us, and our main focus is on preparing for San Diego."
Courtesy San Diego's concurrent 4-3 loss to the San Jose Barracuda, the Roadrunners do still control their own playoff fate. Two regulation wins over the Gulls this weekend would guarantee Tucson its second straight postseason berth.
The Roadrunners almost clawed back from a two-goal third period deficit, outshooting the Condors by a 17-4 margin in the final frame, but without a game-tying goal to show for.
Conor Garland put forth a solid performance in his return to the lineup, playing in his first AHL game since December 2. He finished the evening with six shots, second-most on the team to only Michael Bunting's seven, and one assist.
"He's a great addition for us," Mermis added of Garland. "He's a guy that brings a lot of skill, brings a lot of different looks for our group, so we're extremely excited that he's back, he helps our team a lot."
The Condors struck first, taking a 1-0 lead with just under eight minutes to play in the opening frame.
In the waning moments of the first period, and to finish an absolutely marvelous shift to keep Bakersfield hemmed in its own zone, Lane Pederson delivered a pass to Nick Merkley as he drove toward the net. Pederson's pass didn't connect cleanly, but Merkley batted the puck out of mid-air with seven seconds left on the clock to tie the game 1-1.
Merkley's goal served as his ninth of the season and his fifth in the last six games.
In the second period, Bakersfield's Josh Currie rattled off three straight goals to record a natural hat trick, giving the Condors a 4-1 advantage.
With just over three minutes left in the middle frame, Michael Chaput possessed a puck that had been recovered from the corner and fired a wrist shot off the far post and in, cutting the Condors' lead to 4-2.
Chaput's goal was his 15th of the season and his fifth with the Roadrunners.
The Roadrunners got to within a goal with 9:18 left to play in regulation when Mermis fired home from the top of the slot on the man advantage, making the score 4-3.
For Mermis, it was his third straight game with a goal and his fourth of the season - a new career-high.
Garland was credited with the primary assist on Mermis' tally, registering his first point in his first game back with the club.
Bakersfield clung to their one goal lead until the final horn; securing the 4-3 win.
"We're in the hunt," Mermis stressed following the game. "Obviously you'd like to keep gaining and gaining, but that's just the way the cards fall right now, and we have to regroup and mentally prepare for these two games, they're do or die."
The Roadrunners now return home for their final two regular season games, set to take on San Diego at Tucson Arena on Friday and Saturday night, both contests scheduled for 7:05 PM starts.
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