ONTARIO, CA – Faced with elimination to their rivals, the Ontario Reign were expected to play with desperation, throwing everything they had at the San Diego Gulls. The Gulls, know it was coming and were prepared to push back.
In the first period, it worked. After a few minutes of even play, the Gulls took over the game. Jack Campbell came under assault as the Gulls got to every loose puck and won every battle. Campbell was up to the task, however, and kept his team in the game until they could regroup and start to pressure Jonas Enroth.
Five minutes into the second period, the Reign got the break they were looking for in the form of a Justin Auger breakaway (yes, you read that correctly, Auger breakaway). Shedding defenders like a winter coat, Auger powered down center ice and fired the puck past Enroth. The goal was followed by a Gulls penalty twenty seconds later and the Reign seemed to have all of the momentum. They couldn’t do anything with the power play, however, and the Gulls began to control possession again. They were rewarded with a power play when Jonny Brodzinski ran interference in the offensive zone. With seconds left on the power play, a Keaton Thompson shot bounced out of Campbell’s glove and into the net, tying the game.
The Reign came out in the third period with the push everyone had been expecting. Paul LaDue broke the tie 3:30 into the period with a shot that whistled past Enroth. This time, Ontario was able to keep the Gulls from pushing back too much and Campbell held on to the Reign’s lead. With five minutes left, Michael Mersch fired a shot at Enroth that bounced over to a lurking Auger who buried it for the two-goal lead. The Gulls tried one more push with their goaltender pulled, but T.J. Hensick worked himself free and made sure to nail the empty net for the fourth goal of the night.
The Good: Jack Campbell was finally able to out-play Jonas Enroth, stopping 21 of 22 shots as well as weathering the first period push by San Diego. Justin Auger was having a great night with two goals and an assist.
The Bad: Despite only having two chances, the Reign’s power play was more of a detriment than an asset. Both chances ended up stealing momentum, with the players attempting to pass the puck into the net. Many times, the passes were fumbling out of the zone without any help from the defenders.
Which leads us to –
The Ugly: The Reign have been guilty of being sloppy with their passes, allowing turnovers in dangerous areas, throughout the season. This was on display in the first and second period, with turnovers just inside their own blueline before clearing the zone, allowing the Gulls to trap players on the ice. Jack Campbell was able to cover the mistakes, but it very easily could have been the Reign’s season-ending last night.
Someone’s season will end tonight. The Battle for California has two elimination games this evening. The Barracuda and the Heat are battling for the Northern California title while the Gulls and the Reign will fight for Southern California.