May 5, 2016
ONTARIO, Calif. – Michael Mersch had two goals and an assist as the host Ontario Reign captured Game 1 of the AHL Pacific Division Finals, dealing the San Diego Gulls a 5-3 defeat in front of 4,387 at Citizens Business Bank Arena. Jeff Schultz added a goal and assist for the Reign, who take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Calder Cup playoff series.
Kalle Kossila, Matt Bailey and Corey Tropp netted goals for San Diego, who rallied from a 2-0 first period deficit to tie the score 2-2 early in the second. Joel Lowry’s go-ahead goal at 14:37 allowed the Reign (4-1 playoffs) to regain the lead for good.
The Reign, who won the Calder Cup as the Manchester Monarchs in 2015, demonstrated their quality with their trademark: suffocating defense. San Diego was held to four shots in the first and third period. Ontario struck first midway through the first when Schultz’s shot at the blue line came through to Gulls goalie Matt Hackett, with Mersch waiting on the doorstep to push home the rebound at 10:26.
Vincent LoVerde, set up perfectly down low on a feed from Nic Dowd, converted the game’s first power play at 14:37 of the first to make it 2-0 Ontario.
San Diego charged out of the locker room in the second period with renewed energy and focus. Chris Mueller passed forward to Kalle Kossila, whose one-time deflection outside the left circle beat Peter Budaj between the pads for a 2-1 score at 3:06.
Shortly thereafter, it was Corey Tropp battling from the offensive corner to the trapezoid behind Budaj’s net, pushing the puck into the crease, where Matt Bailey was waiting to lift it over Budaj and inside the crossbar for an equalizer at 5:32.
A defensive zone turnover led to Lowry’s go-ahead goal, picking out the upper-right corner over Hackett’s left shoulder for a 3-2 Ontario lead.
Mersch’s second goal, a deflection with back-to-net 9:11 into the third period off a blue line shot from Kevin Raine, built a two-goal lead for the Reign. Corey Tropp’s goal with an extra attacker at 17:37 narrowed the score to 4-3, and the Gulls gained a power play moments later, but Schultz’s empty net goal at 19:37 concluded the scoring.
Playing in an alternating games format, the Gulls and Reign relocate to San Diego for Game Two on Saturday night at Valley View Casino Center.
NOTES: Final shots were 29-19 in favor of the Reign…Ontario was 1-for-4 on the power play; the Gulls were 0-for-3…owners of the AHL’s top penalty kill unit, the Reign improved to 52-for-57 on the PK against San Diego dating back to the regular season…Hackett started in net in the place of Anton Khudobin, who is day-to-day with an upper body injury…center Mike Sgarbossa (lower body) was an injury scratch for the Gulls along with left wing Nic Kerdiles (upper body).
1st Star: ONT Michael Mersch (2-1=3, 3 SOG); 2nd Star: ONT Jeff Schultz (1-1=2, +3 rating); 3rd Star: ONT Kevin Raine (0-2=2, +2 rating)