By Thomas Harrington
A year after losing to Ontario in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, San Diego was able to get revenge and eliminated their rivals in five hard fought games.
After dropping their first home game of the playoffs, the Gulls were determined to win one for their fans in game three of this series. San Diego and Ontario traded goals in the first, with Kalle Kossila scoring his first goal of the postseason to give the Gulls the early lead, but Mike Amadio tied the game up a few minutes later. Neither team scored in the second, and the third began with the game still tied at one apiece. After giving up the game-winning goal with just seconds left in regulation of game one, the Gulls flipped the script in game three. With about a minute and a half left, Ondrej Kase made a great drop pass to Nic Kerdiles, and he ripped the puck home, giving the Gulls a 2-1 lead. A minute later, Antoine Laganiere scored into the empty net, giving the Gulls a 3-1 win and a 2-1 series lead. Jhonas Enroth made 38 saves in the win and Jack Campbell stopped 24 pucks in the loss.
With a chance to eliminate their rivals in game four, San Diego knew that the Reign were going to come out with their best game of the series. This time, the Gulls were on the road and looking to win their second game in Ontario in the series. The opening frame was scoreless, but the Reign got on the board early in the second on a pretty goal from Justin Auger. Late in the period, the Gulls went on the powerplay and Keaton Thompson scored on a beautiful one-time shot. It was his first career playoff goal. Once again, the teams entered the third period tied at one. However, just a few minutes into the third, and Paul LaDue put the Reign on top. Late in the period, Auger scored his second of the night, and T.J. Hensick sealed the win with an empty-netter, setting up a winner take all game five. Enroth stopped 31 shots in the loss, and Campbell only had to make 21 saves to get the win in a game that Ontario showed why they were such a dangerous team over the past couple of postseasons.
In game four, Campbell suffered an apparent injury but was able to finish the contest. However, he was ruled out to start game five. Jeff Zatkoff was set to man Ontario’s net, but he was injured in warmups, leaving Ontario’s third string goalie Jack Flinn as Ontario’s starter. With Ontario’s top two goalies out, San Diego knew they had a great chance in this game, but they needed a good start. Nine minutes into the game, Kerdiles put San Diego on top on the power play, for his third goal of the series. A minute later Thompson scored in his second consecutive game, and Kevin Roy gave the Gulls a 3-0 lead shortly after that. Kerdiles assisted on both goals, giving him three points in just a few minutes of action. At that point, Flinn was pulled, and the injured Campbell went into Ontario’s net. San Diego continued to press the issue, but Campbell played well and kept San Diego off the board through the rest of the first and through all of the second period. Credit to him for coming into a difficult situation while injured, he played very well for Ontario in this game. Halfway through the third, Brett Sutter scored to give Ontario life, but that was the only goal that the Reign were able to get by Enroth. Late in the third, Jordan Samuels-Thomas scored off of a beautiful pass from Sam Carrick, giving San Diego the 4-1 win and 3-2 series victory.
San Diego got a number of notable contributions from up and down its lineup, as well as some recently added players who added a lot to their roster. Kerdiles was San Diego’s best forward in this series, as he led the team with three goals and six points in the five-game series. Nick Sorensen finished second in scoring, registering two goals and four points. Kossila, Roy, Spencer Abbott, and Andy Welinski all had three points. Of their six top point scorers, four of them were rookies and one was added at the trade deadline. Even more impressive is the fact that Corey Tropp, San Diego’s scoring leader in the regular season, was only able to play in one game in this series. Kase was up and down between Anaheim and San Diego, but played in three games for the Gulls and had one assist. Jack Kopacka played in one game in the series and went scoreless, while Tyler Soy, Deven Sideroff, Mitch Hults, and Austin Ortega did not play in any games in this series. It will be interesting to see if any of them get into a game later in the playoffs or not. All of them were added to the roster late in the regular season, so expect some of them to play a much larger role in San Diego next year. Max Jones played in four of the five games, and failed to record any points, but was very noticeable on the ice, especially in game five. He’s got great speed and used it throughout as he beat out an icing call, had a breakaway, and was an effective forechecker. Assuming he doesn’t make Anaheim’s roster next year, he’ll be back in juniors, but when he turns pro full-time, he looks like he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in a few years.
With the Reign now behind them, San Diego will set its sights on the San Jose Barracuda, one of the best teams in the AHL this season, and arguably the best team since the start of January. The best of seven series starts this Friday.
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May 3rd, 2017