Apr. 13, 2018

The Gulls playoff hopes will come down to the final game of the season tomorrow night. Mario Kempe scored his second goal of the game with 3:10 left in regulation to stun the Gulls and edge out a 3-2 win at Tucson Convention Center Arena.

The Gulls needed one point to clinch a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs but the late goal, and a Stockton win tonight, force San Diego to earn a point tomorrow night to clinch the final spot in the Pacific Division.

“I thought it was a good effort, especially by some of our top players like Kossila, Tropp, Carrick, Kerdiles, guys that have played a lot of minutes, like Kevin Roy,” said head coach Dallas Eakins. “I thought they gave us everything they had and obviously a massive kick in nether regions with three minutes. We have three chances to get the puck out, and we try to clear it up the middle which we’ve been taught from a very early age to put that puck to the wall and we had a couple players panic there and it ends up in your net.”

“The encouraging thing is we played well overall and the encouraging thing is we have another crack at it. That’s all we can do.”

Dysin Mayo opened the scoring at 6:28 on a 2-on-1 rush to give Tucson a 1-0 lead. Lawson Crouse’s pass sprung Dylan Strome and his patience paid off as he drew a defenseman towards him on the left dot and slid a pass across to Mayo who buried a wrist shot into an open cage as Boyle wasn’t able to move across in time.

The Gulls’ league-leading power play answered when it was needed as Nic Kerdiles scored his 14th goal of the season on a between the legs pass from Corey Tropp to tie the game at 1-1 14:04 of the first period. With Kyle Capobianco in the box for holding, the Gulls power play dominated the full man advantage with Tropp finding the puck down low and his patented move freezing the Tucson defense which enabled Kerdiles to quickly lift a shot over the glove of Adin Hill.

After one period the teams skated off knotted 1-1 with San Diego owning a 14-5 edge in shots.

Tucson tilted the ice int he second period with extended pressure and puck possession but the majority of the period was scoreless as Boyle made 12 saves. But it was Mario Kempe who gave Tucson another lead at 17:57 with a power-play goal while Nic Kerdiles was in the penalty box for high sticking. Kempe tapped in a Joel Hanley back-door pass that beat Boyle side-to-side and the simple tap in for Kempe marked his 17th goal of the season.

With 12.9 seconds remaining in the second frame Kevin Roy tied the score at 2-2 with a wrist shot from the top of the point that found its way past Hill. Roy’s 14th goal of the season marked his second in the last three games and sent the team’s into the second intermission knotted at two apiece with San Diego out-shooting Tucson 20-18 through 40 minutes.

Kempe broke the deadlock with 3:10 remaining in the game with his second of the game on a one-timer from the right circle that beat Boyle to the glove side. Capobianco’s second assist of the game set up Kempe’s shot with the cross-ice feed that put the Gulls down a goal and forcing a frantic finish.

With Boyle pulled in favor of an extra attacker, San Diego piled on the pressure as Tucson continued to ice the puck at the empty net. The Gulls couldn’t find a late answer for Hill and with the 3-2 defeat will look for a quick turnaround tomorrow evening at Tucson Convention Center Arena.

“The reality is tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow can be a great day. This is why, especially with my coaching philosophy, and we’ve talked about it through the whole year, it’s about today always,” added Eakins. “Everyone always puts it on ‘this is a big game, this is a big game.’ That game 12, 18, 34, 42, they are all critical games. If you could have picked up more points then you’re not in this situation. We’re going to have to get by this fairly quickly and come back with an excellent game tomorrow.”

Added defenseman Jaycob Megna:

“We’ve been playing good for stretches but I think we need to put together a full 60 together. It’s a win or go home situation and if you don’t enjoy that you shouldn’t be playing hockey. It’s a challenge for all of the guys in the room and I think we’re excited about it and we’re going to hopefully take the reins and get the job done.”

Three Stars:
1. M. Kempe (TUC)
2. A. Hill (TUC)
3. D. Mayo (TUC)