Feb. 6, 2018

Kalle Kossila netted a goal and assist, and Kevin Boyle stopped 32 of 33 shots faced, as the San Diego Gulls used a three-goal third period to extend out to a 5-1 win over the Iowa Wild on Tuesday night at Valley View Casino Center. The Gulls (24-17-1-0) won their fourth straight contest, sweeping the two-game season set from the Central Division’s Wild.

“It was a good team win tonight all around,” said Boyle, who earned top star honors while improving to 8-2-0 in his past ten starts. “The guys in front of me make my job pretty easy. We’ve done a good job to get some momentum going for the rest of the year here, and we just need to keep that going.”

A spirited opening period saw the Wild (22-15-7-3) attack San Diego’s defense with ferocity, levying the game’s first eight shots over eight minutes only to come up empty behind Boyle’s backstopping. The Gulls answered with an opportunistic rush at the frame’s mid-point, as Corey Tropp received a pass from Steve Oleksy net front and distributed to center Kalle Kossila in the slot. Kossila’s wrister beat Niklas Svedberg glove side at 9:47 for a 1-0 Gulls lead.

Fifty seconds later the lead had doubled as rookie Mitch Hults, back after a five-game stint with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL, sent a left-handed wrister from inside center blue line toward the net, tipped down out of the air by winger Joe Blandisi for a hopping score at 10:37 past Svedberg. Blandisi’s eighth goal of the season made it 2-0 at 10:37 in favor of the Gulls.

“Tonight we were on our heels early and it took a while for us to get going, but we were patient with our game,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “We knew these were critical moments, and we were able to capitalize on our chances.”

Iowa used a clinical line rush to answer back, with pinpoint passing at pace from Kyle Rau and Cal O’Reilly breaking down the Gulls’ defense back and forth from wing to wing. Zack Mitchell was the recipient of an open cage on right wing for the third pass of the sequence and slotted his 11th goal of the season at 14:31 to narrow the gap to 2-1 San Diego.

The Gulls ramped up the pressure from start to finish in a furious second period which saw them out-shoot Iowa 14-6, only to see neither team turn the red lamp. Blandisi hit left post for one of several quality chances for San Diego.

The Gulls gained the comfort of a multi-goal lead early in the third period as the ice opened up for both teams to rush. Sam Carrick and Kevin Roy teamed on a sprint into the Wild Zone, dropping the puck back to the trailing Jaycob Megna. The defenseman had a wide open path to drift down the center of the slot before unleashing his first goal of the season, a wrist shot blocker-side low past Svedberg at 2:27. The goal marked Megna’s first since Feb. 25, 2017 vs. Rockford.

“It was great to finally get off the schneid there and help the team out and extend our lead,” said Megna, “It was a big one for us.”

San Diego salted the game behind their top line, as Kossila picked up a loose puck across two lines and left it back for Giovanni Fiore. As a Wild defenseman collided with Svedberg, Fiore waited for a wide open upper half to rope in his 12th goal of the season and extend the lead to 4-1 at 13:13. Seeking an interference call he would not receive, Svedberg swung his goal stick against the post four times in protest before discarding it into the corner.

Iowa pulled Svedberg with 5:08 remaining to ramp up the pressure, but Boyle responded with several of his better saves among 14 in the third period, casually gloving bids through traffic from the point.

“From the bench he just looks big,” said Eakins of his net-minder, “He looks like a big, square, sub-zero refrigerator
out there. Really calm. I like Kevin’s game when he’s not making spectacular saves. When goalies make spectacular saves they’re usually out of position. Kevin has been nothing but solid for us.”

Steve Olesky concluded the scoring with his career-best sixth goal, an empty netter from the right wall just inside the Gulls’ blue line at 17:49 for his 100th career AHL point. In two games this season against Iowa, San Diego out-scored the Wild from the second intermission on 6-0, including 5-0 in the third period.

The Gulls open a brief two-game homestand at San Jose at SAP Center on Saturday, Feb. 10 (1:15 p.m.) and Sunday, Feb. 11 (12 p.m.)

Three Stars:
1. Kevin Boyle (SD)
2. Kalle Kossila (SD)
3. Jaycob Megna (SD)