April 16, 2016
SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Gulls scored two goals within 29 seconds late in the third period to turn a tense and physical game around, beating the Ontario Reign 3-2 in front of a raucous crowd of 11,705 at Valley View Casino Center. Brian McGrattan’s top shelf score at 15:14 of the third electrified the crowd and sent San Diego (39-23-4-2) into the Calder Cup Playoffs on a high note.
Corey Tropp scored twice for the Gulls, including the equalizer on a power play at 14:45 of the third period, just before McGrattan’s game-winning shot. The Ontario Reign (44-19-4-1) surrendered a third period lead for the first time all season to lose in the AHL regular season finale for both teams. Ontario had been 30-0-0 when leading after forty minutes.
The Gulls out-shot the Reign 43-19 on a night when Ontario rested several veterans, including all-AHL goaltender Peter Budaj. The understudy stepped in just like the star in a Broadway play, as Michael Houser stopped 40-of-43 shots and turned aside several of San Diego’s top scoring chances.
Ontario netted first, when amateur tryout (ATO) rookie Matt Schmalz hustled to capture a puck loose behind the net of San Diego goalie Matt Hackett, sliding the puck out into the low slot where Joel Lowry skated in to roof home the night’s first goal at 12:49 of the first.
The speed and skill of all-AHL defenseman and rookie Brandon Montour was on display later in the first period, as he accelerated to join a rush on right wing, perfectly sliding a pass from the far wall to the back post, where Tropp was waiting to poke home his sixteenth goal of the season. It was Montour’s 45th assist of the year, tops on the club and among AHL defensemen.
The Reign regained the lead on a steal down low, with Joel Lowry this time returning the favor and assisting on Matt Schmalz’s first professional goal, giving Ontario a 2-1 lead at 9:08 of the second period.
The lead held until a series of physical confrontations at 9:24 of the third period put both teams on edge and brought the crowd into full throat.
With the crowd rarely sitting down the rest of the game, San Diego intensified their efforts, leading to the comeback win. McGrattan’s ninth goal of the year, picking out the space over the left shoulder of Houser at 15:14, completed the descent into frenzied celebration.
The Gulls head into the Calder Cup Playoffs with 39 wins and 84 points, a final points percentage of .618, second place in the AHL Pacific Division and fourth in the Western Conference. Game One of the opening round best-of-five series against the Texas Stars is scheduled for Thursday, April 21 at Cedar Park Center in Texas.
NOTES: The Gulls won for just the third time all season when trailing after two periods (3-18-1-0)…Chris Mueller and Brandon Montour each recorded a single assist on the night, finishing the regular season tied for the team points lead with 57…Matt Hackett made 17 saves for his tenth victory of the year (10-7-2)…the Gulls skated a season-high five amateur tryout players in their lineup, resting veterans Stefan Noesen, Nic Kerdiles, Andrew O’Brien and Kenny Ryan.
1st Star: SD Brian McGrattan (1-0=1, GWG); 2nd Star: SD Corey Tropp (2-0=2); 3rd Star: SD Joe Piskula (+1 rating, 5 PIM)