By Thomas Harrington
After defeating Texas in four games, San Diego faced off against the best team in the west and find themselves down in the series two games to one. Ontario has gotten the upper hand with solid defense, a strong performance in net from Peter Budaj, and an outstanding penalty kill.
San Diego entered game one without one of its most important players, goaltender Anton Khudobin, who was injured early in game four against Texas. Matt Hackett was in net, and did not have a good start to the series. He faced 28 shots and stopped 24 of them. The Gulls were also without two other key players: Michael Sgarbossa and Nic Kerdiles. Kerdiles has yet to appear in a game this postseason. Despite the loss, there was some good news for San Diego, as both Kalle Kossila and Corey Tropp picked up their first goals of the playoffs.
In the series preview, there were two players I had mentioned who needed to start scoring goals if San Diego hoped to advance past Ontario. The Gulls opened the game with a listless first period, as they only mustered four shots on net and found themselves in a 2-0 hole after 20 minutes. However, they completely turned things around in the second period as Kossila and Matt Bailey scored two fast goals to tie the game. It wasn’t enough however, and Ontario was back on top with another goal before the period was over. Halfway through the third period the Reign regained their two goal lead, but Tropp scored when the goalie was pulled to make things interesting. Ontario was able to get an empty net goal after that to seal up the 5-3 victory.
Gulls Go Down 2-0
After a pedestrian performance in Game 1, Hackett played arguably his best game for San Diego this season in Game 2. He faced 44 shots and made 42 saves. The team also had a much better first period, as Nick Ritchie opened the scoring just minutes into the contest. However, that was all the offense in the game through 40 minutes. Ontario had a power play late in the second period and it carried over into the third, where they tied the game at one. Ultimately, the game went to overtime where Ontario was able to prevail. Hackett was the primary reason for the Gulls having a chance to win this game, but the offense wasn’t able to come through in the extra frame.
Gulls Earn First Victory
Down two games to none, the Gulls had their backs against the wall heading into game three. Game three played out very similar to game two through the first 40 minutes. The Gulls took a 1-0 lead in the first; this time it was Kossila scoring his second of the series. Late in the second period, Ontario went on the power play and it carried over into the third. However, San Diego was able to kill the penalty off this time, and get a power play goal of their own, as Ritchie scored his fifth goal of the playoffs. It was San Diego’s first power play goal of the series and the first power play goal that Ontario had given up in the postseason. With the goalie pulled, Jaycob Megna scored into the empty net, his first goal of the entire season, giving the Gulls a 3-0 victory. After being stellar in game two, Hackett had another outstanding performance, as he stopped all 29 shots he faced.
Game 4 Preview
Game four will be this Friday in San Diego, with game five immediately following it on Saturday in Ontario. If necessary, game six will be next Monday in San Diego, and game seven will be next Wednesday in Ontario. After a poor outing in game one, the Gulls played better in game two, but Hackett was the main reason why they had a chance in that game. Game three was easily their most complete effort of the series, and they will need a lot more games like that if they want to continue turning this series around. Also, if Khudobin remains out, Hackett will need to continue to play at the high level he has for the last two games. Offensively, Kossila has come alive in this series and Ritchie has scored a couple times as well, but the rest need to get going, especially Stefan Noesen. The team could also use a bit of luck on the injury front, as neither Sgarbossa nor Kerdiles have played a game in this series. Finally, the Gulls need to do a better job of limiting Ontario’s chances, especially for their top end players. Through the first two games, Ontario’s top two lines were getting the better of San Diego, but were much more contained in game three. San Diego needs to keep playing like that if they want to get back in this series.
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