ONTARIO, CA – Thankfully for Reign fans, the recently concluded road trip has not been overly critical to the Calder Cup playoff hopes for the Ontario Reign. The team left town two weeks ago to visit their northern neighbors, taking with them inconsistent play, lagging interest and a notably terrible power play.
Their trip started with a loss to the San Jose Barracuda in which the lack of leadership on the team was noticeable.
Two days later, they were playing Stockton again, this time in the Heat’s arena. The teams split the first period evenly as the Reign seemed to correct their slow start issue. They traded goals and exited the period tied 1-1.
Unfortunately, Ontario forgot to show up for the second period. Stockton dominated the second in all areas except the power play (where Ontario & Stockton seemed to be in a contest to see whose power play was worse). Despite outshooting the Reign 14-5, the Heat only managed one goal, and that was short handed. The third period saw the Reign pick up their physical play in an attempt to get back into the game. The Heat would get the next goal, however, to go up 3-1. A short handed goal from Justin Auger three minutes later made the game interesting, but Schneider denied their comeback attempt and the Reign had another three game losing streak.
Leave it to the Bakersfield Condors to help the Reign out.
Ontario was in Bakersfield the night after the loss to the Heat, looking to stop their small skid. The Condors were able to keep pace through the first period, but couldn’t maintain it. The Reign took the game over in the second, but were not rewarded with a goal until three minutes into the third, when Brett Sutter broke the stalemate to give the Reign a 1-0 lead.
Kris Newbury would improve on that lead seven minutes later and the Reign kept the two-goal lead for the rest of the game. Peter Budaj added another shut-out to his already impressive resume this year, earning his 38th win.
After a brief stop back in the Inland Empire, the Reign had to return to Stockton again.
With the chance to clinch the Pacific Division title and a lot of pride on the line, a revitalized Reign squad matched the Heat through the first period, then exploded for four goals in the second period. Two of those goals were produced by the much maligned power play which also looked competent.
The Heat tallied a power play goal of their own, but it was not enough. Even recently signed rookie Sam Herr got in on the scoring action, tallying his first professional goal in his second game. The third period saw the Reign retreat into a defensive shell, allowing 23 shots against Peter Budaj while only registering 3 of their own. Budaj was up to the task and the Reign clinched the Pacific Division with a 4-1 win.
The Reign finish their home schedule tonight against the same Condors, then travel to Bakersfield on Saturday, before finishing the regular season in San Diego next weekend.
Impressive: Kurtis MacDermid has started to return to form, challenging the Heat’s Blair Riley after a high hit that sent Jordan Samuels-Thomas to the locker room. He has been seen making those big hits once again and jumping into the play. With Gravel being called up to the Kings, the Reign will need MacDermid to step up his game even more.
Not So Much: The Reign’s top lines have not looked well on this road trip. The majority of the goals were scored by the lower two lines and defensemen. While it is not much to worry about right now, the Reign will need the entire squad firing on all cylinders for the playoffs.
The Playoff Picture: With the Reign clinching the Pacific Division, the first round match-up between Texas and San Diego has been pretty much set. They are still vying for home ice advantage, but the Gulls have pulled ahead of the Stars in that regard.
The Charlotte Checkers have also gained some separation from the California teams for the remaining playoff spot and own their own fate headed to the playoffs.
The Stockton Heat have not been mathematically eliminated yet, but they are close. The Condors are also close to elimination.
The Barracuda still have a fighting chance, but they will need a combination of wins & Checkers losses to earn a spot.
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