One of the toughest tasks in any sport is overcoming a deficit on the path to victory, but the Stockton Thunder are making the arduous appear routine in the hockey rink.
In their five ECHL playoff wins this season, Stockton has trailed by at least two goals in three of them, the third such victory coming Saturday night in a 5-3 win over the Alaska Aces in Game 2 of a Western Conference semifinal series.
"It's something we don't want to get in the habit of," Stockton coach Matt Thomas said. "We needed some inspiring performances and we were able to get a couple of those tonight."
No performance was more inspiring than Matt Bergland's. He scored his second game-winning goal of the postseason, hushing an otherwise spirited crowd at Sullivan Arena in the process and evening the series at a game apiece.
Bergland, who missed Friday's Game 1 with an injury, put the Thunder ahead 4-3 with less than five minutes to play. It was Stockton's first lead and it came three minutes after Bergland earned an assist on Ryan Hayes' game-tying goal.
"To be able to come back in the playoffs shows a lot about our team, a lot about our character," Bergland said. "We've pushed back in a few games here and got some bounces and ended up winning big games. It builds a lot of confidence."
Bergland's goal was the product of the puck's fortunate bounce off the boards behind the goal. The left winger was skating near the left goal post when the puck came his way and a quick flip of the wrists pushed the puck through a sliver of space behind Aces goalie Gerald Coleman.
"The D rubbed me out and kinda flipped me around," Bergland said. "I saw the puck coming right at me, so I had to react quickly."
Bergland also produced a game-winning goal in overtime of Game 1 in a first-round series with Las Vegas. Stockton beat Las Vegas in seven games, despite trailing 3-0 with less than five minutes to play in Game 6.
Coming from behind creates a mental strain, Thomas said, but the key for the Thunder is sticking to a trusted and proven game plan no matter what. Thomas called Bergland an inspirational leader, precisely because he sticks to the plan and never stops giving his all.
"I just try to go into every game like it's my last, every shift," Bergland said. "I try to bring energy to the team, so hopefully guys pick up off my energy. Whenever you hear those words out of your coach it means a lot and feels good."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
By JEREMY PETERS