Jan. 15, 2018
For the second straight game Dylan Strome dominated the score sheet with three points to lead the Tucson Roadrunners to a 5-3 win over the Gulls at Tucson Arena. Lawson Crouse tallied two goals and an assist for his first career three-point game and goaltender Hunter Miska stopped 20-of-23 shots en route to his 11th win of the season.
The Gulls (19-15-1-0, 39 pts.) found themselves ahead early but trailed for most of the game as a 4-1 deficit was too much to overcome despite a valiant effort with two third period goals to make it an uneasy finish before eventually falling for the second straight game against the Roadrunners.
In a game where center’s Kalle Kossila and Sam Carrick did not dress due to upper-body injuries, Strome again was a force in scoring his sixth goal and sixth and seventh assists of the season against San Diego. The Arizona Coyotes first round selection (third overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft helped the Roadrunners (20-11-2-1, 43 pts.) to their fourth consecutive win over the Gulls after San Diego had dominated the all-time series with a 13-1-0-1 record the first 15 games.
Fiore opened the scoring with his seventh goal of the season at 8:37 of the first period just as a Gulls power play had expired. Joe Blandisi’s cross-ice pass from the half wall split the Tucson defense and Fiore’s shot from the top of the right circle beat Roadrunners goaltender Hunter Miska (11-3-0) just below his blocker and over the right pad. The goal marked Fiore’s first in 14 games, the last coming with only seconds on the clock for the latest game-winning goal in club history at Ontario on Dec. 1.
Strome scored to even things up with 29.4 seconds in the opening frame when he skated around the net and had time and space to turn to his forehand and lift the puck high over Boyle’s glove on the near post. The goal marked Strome’s 17th of the season and sixth against San Diego in five games.
Only 18 seconds later Mike Sislo received a feed from down low by Michael Bunting to pot his 11th goal of the season when his shot from the hash marks found its way between Boyle’s pads for a shocking 2-1 lead with 12.1 seconds in the period. Tucson dominated the play for long stretches, being rewarded in the final minute of the period after a 16-3 advantage in shots on goal after 20 minutes of play.
“We were on our heels a lot. Some self-inflicted wounds, long periods of time in our zone and I thought we were going to get out of it,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “It was one of those nights where it was like, ‘OK we were going to get out of this with a 1-0 lead, we can regroup and get after it.’ Two ended up in our net very quickly and again, just mental mistakes, something that we haven’t seen a lot from our group over the past few weeks.”
Just past the halfway mark Strome created another goal to give Tucson a 3-1 lead at 10:45 of the second period as Lawson Crouse tapped in his fourth goal of the season. After a slow start to the period that saw the Roadrunners fail to garner a shot on goal through the first 10-plus minutes, Strome collected the puck at the blue line and forced a 2-on-1. As he deked to slide the puck under Boyle’s glove, the puck slid behind the net, Strome collected it and shoveled a pass to Crouse at the top of the crease and a scrambling Boyle couldn’t find his way back into position as Crouse nonchalantly flipped the puck into the net.
San Diego would fail to find the back of the net in the middle frame despite outshooting Tucson by a 12-4 margin and the league-leading Gulls power play had it’s chances late in the period with Mario Kempe in the box but couldn’t convert before the period wound down.
Crouse extended the lead to 4-1 with his second of the night on the power play at 1:44 of the third period. Kyle Capobianco’s point shot ricocheted to Crouse who was again at the top of the crease and able to put the puck through Boyle for his second multi-goal game of the season. Strome picked up his third point of the night on the play with an assist.
“You have to be hard on him, without taking penalties, and not to inflict injury or anything else<' said Eakins when asked about Strome. "You have to know that he’s on the ice, you have to understand that he has a certain skill set and you have to let him know that any time he touches the puck we’re going to have pressure. Each of the first four Tucson goals were scored in close proximity to the net an area where Eakins feels the team needs to be more dominant to heed the results necessary. "It’s something we talk about all the time. There’s an area in front of the net that we call it the red zone and you have to own it at both ends," added Eakins. "You have to be inside and own it in your own end, and the way you’re going to score goals in this league, and the NHL, is to get inside and own the red zone in their zone. They got inside and we got pushed around a little bit in that area." Kevin Roy cut the lead to 4-2 with a power play marker of his own at 3:23 of the final period when he was given space on the left wing following sustained pressure by the Gulls. Tropp found Roy with a cross-ice pass and he simply outwaited Miska to bury his shot high to the near side over the blocker. Nic Kerdiles made it a one goal game with 11:45 remaining when his one-timer from the top of the left circle blasted by Miska’s glove and into the top of the net. The goal was Kerdiles’ sixth of the season and he now has earned 11 points his last 13 games (5-6=11). Ryan White and Mitch Hults picked up the assists on the marker. Tucson captain Andrew Campbell sealed the game with an empty-net goal with 4.1 seconds on the clock and denied the Gulls their most dramatic comeback which wasn’t meant to be. These two teams will face off again for the third consecutive game on Wednesday morning in an early start at Tucson Arena (9:05 a.m. PT).