February 20, 2016
SAN DIEGO – Matt Berry’s go-ahead goal with 4:18 remaining in the third period snapped a 2-2 tie, and Anton Khudobin made 30 saves on 32 shots faced to preserve the edge as the San Diego Gulls beat the Ontario Reign 4-2 on Saturday night at Valley View Casino Center. A crowd of 10,897 saw San Diego (25-20-1-1) beat the Reign for the fifth time this season, moving alone into third place in the AHL Pacific Division.
Berry’s wrist shot over Budaj’s glove-side shoulder and into the upper-right corner was his third goal of the season and first game-winner with the Gulls in the American Hockey League (AHL). Zac Larraza assisted on the eventual game-winner.
Brandon Montour, Joseph Cramarossa and Mike Sgarbossa also netted goals against the Reign (30-14-3-1), who lost for the fifth of eight times against the Gulls in the season series.
A spirited crowd on Hockey Weekend Across America saw a tense and technical first period, as the two best teams in the AHL at preserving the game’s first goal for victory grappled for the initial advantage. San Diego (19-0-0-1 when scoring first entering play) and Ontario (23-0-1-0) are the only two teams in the league without a regulation loss when turning the first red lamp.
With both teams failing to convert on a pair of power plays, the game remained scoreless through twenty minutes. San Diego had a third man advantage to start the second period but could not best netminder Peter Budaj, who entered the night leading the AHL in wins, save percentage, shutouts and goals-against average.
The Gulls’ top line would generate the night’s first goal late in the second period. Passes from Sgarbossa and Ondrej Kase triggered rookie defenseman Brandon Montour, who charged Budaj from the right wing. His shot ripped the upper left corner for his ninth goal of the season and the critical 1-0 San Diego lead.
Before the crowd could settle back into their seats, the Reign found the equalizer, winning an offensive-zone draw before Kevin Raine’s rebound goal off a post shot made it a 1-1 tie just seventeen seconds later.
A goal, and a quick answer, would be the story early in the third period as well. Nick Ebert finished a spirited shift with a left circle snap shot and his first goal of the season just 1:40 into the frame for Ontario’s first and only lead of the game at 2-1.
Just 22 seconds later, Joseph Cramarossa lifted home a rebound to put the Gulls back even at two, with assists from Matt Bailey and Shea Theodore. With Khudobin conjuring up 10 of his 30 saves in the closing minutes, including a key glove grab with just under a minute to play and an extra skater on ice, San Diego was able to withstand Ontario’s late pressure and earn their fifth win in the series. The Gulls are the only team in the league to beat Budaj five times (3-4-1).
San Diego embarks upon a third straight three-game week when they travel to Stockton for a Wednesday night contest, returning home for weekend games against San Antonio and San Jose.
NOTES: With the Gulls and Reign holding to their “score first, win first” form, first goal has now determined the winner in seventeen straight Gulls games and 22 of the last 23…both teams were 0-for-4 on the power play…Sgarbossa’s empty-netter was his 11th goal of the season, snapping what was a four-way tie at ten goals for active San Diego goals leader (Mueller, Laganiere, Cramarossa)…Nick Ritchie, currently on recall with the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, leads the Gulls on the season with 15 goals.
1st Star: SD Matt Bailey (0-1=1); 2nd Star: SD Joseph Cramarossa (1-0=1); 3rd Star: SD Anton Khudobin (30 saves on 32 shots faced)