It could be argued that Lane Pederson has been the Tucson Roadrunners’ most indispensable skater since the season opened up six months ago. On Saturday night, he was without question the most impactful player on the ice for either team.
Pederson scored all three Tucson goals, including the winner a minute into overtime, in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Barracuda on Saturday night at Tucson Arena. Pederson’s team-high 17th, 18th and 19th goals of the season mark the first hat trick of his professional career while giving the Roadrunners (29-23-5-2) a crucial two points in the standings and pumping even more life into the team’s hopes of reaching the Calder Cup playoffs.
“Yeah, just unbelievable passes by everybody. I had a few more chances tonight. I probably should have capitalized earlier. Grégs, Burkey and Chapper — all real good passes,” he said of teammates Jérémy Grégoire, Brayden Burke and Michael Chaput. “Just right place, right time, I guess. I’m lucky they went in.”
Tucson’s fourth win in its last five games draws the Roadrunners to within six points of the Barracuda (32-19-3-4) and the Colorado Eagles for the fourth and final playoff spot out of the American Hockey League’s Pacific Division. San Jose and Colorado both picked up a point by reaching overtime in their respective contests, with the Eagles falling 3-2 in the extra period to Manitoba.
While San Jose has 10 games remaining — including Sunday’s 3 p.m. faceoff against the Roadrunners at Tucson Arena — Tucson has nine to play. Colorado has just six left, though, including two in Tucson next weekend.
Before the game-winner, Pederson’s first two goals both erased one-goal deficits to keep the game tight.
San Jose led 1-0 when Dylan Gambrell opened the scoring seven minutes into the first period. The goal came barely seven seconds into a Barracuda power play. Pederson matched it just outside two minutes to go on the first, with Grégoire and Cam Dineen on the assists.
About two minutes into the second period, John McCarthy put the Barracuda up 2-1 — this time by flipping a shorthanded goal past Tucson goaltender Adin Hill — before Pederson countered again, his own power-play marker coming 11 minutes into the second period as Burke and Robbie Russo were credited with the assists.
And the game stayed that way — 2-2 — until Pederson, who now has nine points in his last five games, ended it exactly one minute into overtime.
“It was just fitting that he scored the overtime goal,” Tucson coach Jay Varady said. “The easiest way to describe Pedey is he’s a culture carrier. He’s a guy our organization is looking toward in terms of how we want to play. And he does it every day. Whether it’s practice, games he’s there and he’s doing the right things.”
Pederson’s overtime goal wasn’t on the power play, but it was set up by a Roadrunner man advantage situation. Late in the third, Tucson’s Michael Bunting got into a footrace with the San Jose defense for a loose puck that was trickling into the Barracuda zone. Bunting got to the puck first, and while his shot went wide, he was slashed in the process. That sent San Jose’s Jacob Middleton to the penalty box with 1:14 to play in regulation.
In overtime — which is normally a 3-on-3 skating situation — Tucson had the 4-on-3 advantage while San Jose killed the remainder of Middleton’s penalty. Even though Middleton was already out of the box, thus creating a 4-on-4, Tucson was still deep in the San Jose zone, allowing Pederson to set up to the right of Barracuda goaltender Josef Korenar.
“We got the puck off the rebound there … the puck just went behind the net and Chapper saw me back door,” Pederson said. “Patiently waiting for it, calling for it, wanted it, and he made a heck of a pass. It was a good play.”
Korenar stopped 30 of 33 Tucson shots, while Hill, making his sixth straight start for Tucson, stopped 20 of 22. Hill has been in net as the Roadrunners have won four of their last five games.
Pederson is not only Tucson’s leading goal scorer, but tops the Roadrunners in points, too, with 40 on the season.