ONTARIO, CA – Down 2-0 in the series and needing a win to close out the weekend, the Gulls came back to Ontario on a mission. The Reign came back tired.
Through most of Sunday night’s game, the Reign looked like a team who has played three games in four nights. There was little jump to their game, the passing was terrible, puck handling was a skill none seemed to have mastered and decisions were suspect at best. The best passes the Reign made all evening were directly to a Gulls player. Usually one all alone in the middle of the ice. Drop passes were made to vacant zones. Even Peter Budaj looked shaky at times, losing the puck after giving up a short rebound. By the end of the game, frustration was clearly evident on the ice, though they managed to escape with only one bad penalty.
The Gull were at the opposite end of the spectrum. They came into the Citizens Business Bank Arena with the energy of team that had a week off. After a shaky start, Matt Hackett has settled into the solid net minder the Gulls knew he could be. Hackett rewarded their faith with a shut-out, stopping all 29 shots he faced. The team itself rode the line getting under the Reign’s skin without pushing them into a fight that might have energized their opponents.
Both team were faced with an inconsistent officiating crew that let a lot slide then called borderline penalties. The linesmen took forever to drop the puck at every face off, drawing the ire of the teams and the crowd. The only redeeming quality to the calls was that they were inconsistent to both teams, favoring neither one.
Despite controlling most of the game, it took the Gulls three tried to get a goal to stick. The first attempt only 20 seconds in was waived off then reviewed, where the on ice decision was upheld that the puck didn’t cross the line. The second attempt was waived off due to a high stick, much to the ire of the large Gulls contingent in the stands. It was with 1:30 left in the period that Ondrej Kase kept the puck in the zone, stealing it from the Reign. Adrian Kempe lost Kalle Kossila who was left open in front of the net. Antoine Laganiere found him with a pass that he pulled around a diving Budaj & fired into a wide open net.
The 1-0 score would hold until 8:18 of the third period. On the power play, the Reign failed to clear the zone, then failed to clear the front of the net. Parked in front of Budaj, Nick Ritchie was able to deflect a Brandon Montour shot past Budaj to give the Gulls the 2-0 lead. 8 minutes later, Jaycob Megna found the empty net for the killer goal.
Both teams now get four days off before the series resumes in San Diego again, where the Gulls will try to build on their success to tie things up.
Impressive: Vincent LoVerde continues to impress us with his play, slightly reminiscent of Scott Niedermayer, he has been the top Reign player so far in this series. On the other side of the ice, Gulls goaltender Matt Hackett has taken the opportunity given by Anton Khodobin‘s injury and run with it. Should Khodobin be cleared to play, we assume they will stick with Hackett.
Not so Much: The Reign power play is back in late season form. We’ve documented at length its struggles and they have made a reappearance in this series. The Reign are also missing the spark that Jonny Brodzinski gave them. None of the lines looked consistently dangerous and the Reign need another scoring threat to occupy the Gulls defense.
Elsewhere in the Playoffs: Lake Erie has Grand Rapids on the ropes, winning their third in the series Sunday night. The Monsters are currently the only undefeated team in the playoffs, having already swept Rockford out of the first round. The Albany Devils managed to hold on for an overtime win against the Calder Cup favorite Toronto Marlies on Sunday as well. The Hershey Bears have taken a 2-1 series lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after a 5-2 win on Saturday night.