CEDAR PARK, Texas – Friday night’s game against the Texas Stars may not have been an elimination game, but in the best-of-5, the Ontario Reign could not afford to go down 2-0.
Slow starts cost the Reign early goals and had them chasing all of Thursday night’s game one.
Friday night, the Reign were prepared.
They started the game fully invested, grabbing control early and sending waves of offense at Mike McKenna. McKenna held strong, keeping the Reign off of the board until his team could wrestle possession away from Ontario. The Stars eventually began to turn the tide with the help of a couple of power plays, but couldn’t put one past Cal Petersen.
Late in the first, it was a power play for the Reign that broke the stalemate. 16 seconds into the man advantage, Brett Sutter pulled the puck off of the boards behind the net and sent it out front where a lingering Philippe Maillet jammed it past McKenna.
Three minutes later, Matt Luff found himself with the puck and space in front of the net. He outwaited McKenna, putting some distance between them, then fired it into the corner to put the Reign up 2-0.
The Stars came charging back in the second period, keeping the Reign hemmed in their own zone again with only brief sprints up ice for one shot before they were back on the defensive. Two more Reign penalties added to the Stars momentum and the Reign found themselves back on their heels for much of the period. Cal Petersen was back on his game, however, and stymied every attempt the Stars made.
After nearly 17 minutes of defending, the Reign broke out in a 3-on-2 rush. T.J. Hensick carried the puck into the zone and fired it past McKenna to make it 3-0. Despite a pushback from the Stars with some close calls, the period ended with the Reign up 3-0.
The final period saw a more pronounced offensive push from Texas, as the Reign protected their lead. Ontario gave their penalty kill more practice, and it seemed to get better with each try, stealing any momentum the Stars had developed until 14:27 of the third. On their fifth power play of the night, the Stars put together a few cross-ice passes that Petersen couldn’t keep up with and Brian Flynn netted the goal to make it 3-1.
Ontario had an immediate answer in the form of Philippe Maillet with his second of the night 45 seconds later. Add in an empty net goal from Oscar Fantenberg and Ontario took the game 5-1.
The Good: The Reign’s offense was firing on all cylinders, taking advantage of any openings the Stars gave them and Petersen looked much better than he has in the past 10 games. The Stars never gave up on the game, control vast portions and making the Reign chase them all over the ice.
The Bad: The Reign fell back into bad habits, fading back after getting the lead and letting the Stars control the game. While the Stars didn’t make many mistakes, the puck always seemed to end up in their net when they did.
The Ugly: While the officiating was not as suspect as some may believe, it was inconsistent. Calls were made on borderline infractions while blatant ones were allowed to pass. The Reign are known for pushing the bounds trying to get their opponent off their game and with the officials allowing most of it, the Stars began to get frustrated. It hasn’t boiled over yet, but it is definitely simmering.
Game three of this series is in Ontario, California on Sunday afternoon. Faceoff is set for 3 pm Pacific/ 5 pm Central.