The Stockton Heat did not stay in the win column for long.
A day after they snapped a five-game losing skid with a 3-2 shootout victory, the Heat lost to the Manitoba Moose by a 3-1 score on Tuesday evening.
Emilio Pettersen scored the lone goal for Stockton, which fell to 11-17-1 and back into last place in the Canadian Division with the loss. Garret Sparks made 30 saves in the losing effort.
Johnathan Kovacevic, Dominic Toninato, and David Gustafsson scored for the Moose (14-11-2).
These two teams will play one final game against each other on Thursday afternoon to conclude Stockton’s season. The Heat have beaten Manitoba four times—thrice requiring extra time to seal the deal—in eight meetings this year.
Stockton had a glorious opportunity to strike first in Tuesday’s game, earning an 88-second two-man advantage just 2:30 into regulation time.
Cole Maier and Johnathan Kovacevic took back-to-back minor penalties to put the Moose at a 5-on-3 disadvantage. The Heat managed just a single shot with the two extra players and failed to score.
Just past the halfway mark of the period, Moose forward Kristian Reichel came within inches of putting his team on top. He stole the puck in his own defensive zone and skated nearly the length of the ice before putting a hard shot off the post behind Sparks.
After taking the penalty to put his team down two men, Kovacevic redeemed himself late in the first period. The lanky defenseman picked off a clearing attempt by Yan Kuznetsov and beat Sparks with a long-range wrister to put Manitoba up 1-0.
Stockton very nearly started the second period with a game-tying goal. Matthew Phillips fed Walker Duehr with a perfect set-up pass near Moose goaltender Eric Comrie, but Duehr failed to convert with the gaping cage in front of him.
Manitoba took the puck back in the opposite direction and forward Dominic Toninato managed to find a clear lane to Sparks’ crease. He received a pass from Cole Perfetti and beat Sparks on his second attempt to make it a 2-0 game.
Comrie looked sharp in the second period, making 14 saves as Stockton outshot the Moose by a 15-11 count. His best stops came around the 8:00 mark of the frame, as Phillips and Luke Philp tested him with back-to-back shots.
Stockton finally managed to get one back with 8:32 remaining in the second period.
After the Heat killed an Alexander Yelesin penalty, the Russian defenseman exited the box and skated immediately to the bench while the puck remained in his defensive zone.
Emilio Pettersen stepped on the ice to replace Yelesin and immediately found himself behind the defense and receving a pass from Phillips. Pettersen skated in all alone on Comrie and made a fantastic move to beat the goaltender, throwing the puck upstairs for his sixth goal of the season.
The two teams continued to trade chances in the high-flying second period. Phillips continued to make his mark on the game but the goaltenders stood tall, above all else.
While the second period was full of end-to-end action, the final frame was anything but.
The two teams combined for just 14 shots in 20 minutes, with three of Stockton’s nine shots coming after Manitoba doubled its lead for a second time.
With Stockton still trailing 2-1 with less than three minutes remaining, head coach Cail MacLean opted to pull Garret Sparks for an additional attacker. The Heat had possession of the puck at the time but had yet to establish much of a rhythm in the offensive zone.
Manitoba gained the puck almost instantly after Sparks reached the bench and David Gustafsson sealed the 3-1 win with a perfectly-placed shot into the empty net from the neutral zone.
Emilio Pettersen – Adam Ruzicka – Eetu Tuulola
Walker Duehr – Luke Philp – Matthew Phillips
Colton Beck – Giorgio Estephan – Dmitry Zavgorodniy
Alex Gallant – Mark Simpson – Navrin Mutter
Zac Leslie – Alex Petrovic
Colton Poolman – Alexander Yelesin
Yan Kuznetsov – Rob Hamilton
Jeff Malott – David Gustafsson – Nathan Todd
Dominic Toninato – Cole Perfetti – Kristian Reichel
Joona Luoto – Cole Maier – Nick Jones
Marko Dano – Ty Pelton-Byce – Haralds Egle
Dylan Samberg – Johnathan Kovacevic
Ville Heinola – Declan Chisholm
Trent Bourque – Nelson Nogier
Why the Heat lost
Eric Comrie was a wall in the Manitoba crease. Stockton got its fair share of goal-scoring opportunities but failed to consistently beat one of the American Hockey League’s top goaltenders.
The Heat failed to capitalize on a critical two-man advantage early in the game. Even worse, they barely managed to muster any sort of offense towards Comrie during the 5-on-3. The Moose subsequently put the Heat into a hole from which they could not recover.
The hottest Heat
This distinction has to go to Emilio Pettersen, who scored the nicest goal of the game to snap a nine-game drought.
At times, Pettersen has struggled to find his offensive game since the end of Stockton’s eight-game winning streak. He is always a dynamic player on the rush but he sometimes loses sight of the action in more stationary offensive situations.
Nevertheless, Pettersen remains one of the quickest and most skilled players on the Heat who earned praise from his head coach in the post-game media availability for his dedication and consistency in effort. As an AHL rookie, he has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his first 28 games.
The Heat will conclude their season-ending five-game series against Manitoba on Thursday at 3:00 pm MT. You can catch that game on AHL TV; I’ll be posting updates on Twitter at @miketgould.