April 21, 2016
CEDAR PARK, TX – The San Diego Gulls received goals from Antoine Laganiere, Nick Ritchie and Chris Mueller on route to a 3-1 victory over the Texas Stars, as the two AHL Pacific Division teams began their best-of-five series to open up the Pacific Division semifinals.
Anton Khudobin earned the game’s top star designation, saving 28 of the 29 shots he faced from a Stars team that ended the regular season second in the league in goals per game (3.64). San Diego (1-0) killed all four penalties they faced and withstood extended third period defensive zone pressure from the Stars (0-1).
The first period was largely controlled by Texas, out-shooting the Gulls 14-7 in the frame. While Khudobin stopped all 14 shots he faced in the period, including a pair of high danger chances, the Gulls took advantage of a defensive zone error to earn the game’s first goal. Attempting to exit his zone, defenseman Julius Honka of Texas was challenged by Laganiere, who stepped in to steal the puck, rake it to his forehand, and have room in the mid-slot to rifle home his first career AHL postseason goal, good for a 1-0 San Diego lead at 15:00 of the first.
The Gulls carried a power play into the start of the second period but saw the man advantage backfire, as in a very similar pressure situation, it was the Gulls’ Brandon Montour losing the puck to Texas’ Justin Dowling, who worked free down low, executing a left-to-right deke before beating Khudobin five-hole for a 1-1 tie :39 into the second stanza.
The tie held until late in the sixteenth minute of the second period. Working on a furious forecheck, Gulls forwards Mike Sgarbossa and Nick Ritchie teamed up to pressure the puck deep in the Texas zone. Sgarbossa sprung the puck free at the end line and fed Ritchie right circle, who reached out to capture the puck before beating Maxime Legace blocker side low for his first career AHL postseason goal at 15:58.
Former Stars center Chris Mueller, part of Texas’ 2014 Calder Cup championship team, put the dagger in his former mates in the third period. With Stefan Noesen working to free a puck in the far corner of the offensive zone, he slotted a pass down low to Mueller, who backhanded the puck between the pads of Legace for a comfort seeking 3-1 lead 10:56 into the final frame.
The Stars pulled Legace for an empty net with 2:45 to play and directed nine shots at Khudobin in the third, but the Gulls goalie was up to the task, pulling out Game 1 on the road.
The two teams will meet once again at Cedar Park Center on Saturday night for Game 2 of the best-of-five series, set to begin at 5 p.m. Pacific time.
NOTES: After finishing the regular season as the only AHL team with a perfect record when leading after forty minutes (31-0-0), the Gulls moved to 1-0 in the playoffs in the same circumstance…Matt Bailey added a sole assist on the Laganiere goal…rookie defensemen Brian Cooper and Andy Welinski, both on amateur tryout contracts (ATO), started for San Diego and earned +2 defensive ratings respectively…the Gulls went 0-for-2 on the power play; the Stars were 0-for-4.
1st Star: SD Anton Khudobin (28 saves on 29 shots); 2nd Star: TEX Justin Dowling (1-0=1, three SOG); 3rd Star: SD Nick Ritchie (GWG)