May 14, 2016
ONTARIO, Calif. – The San Diego Gulls fell by a 2-1 count to the Ontario Reign on Saturday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena, allowing the Reign to close out the AHL’s Pacific Division Finals 4-1.
Justin Auger’s goal at 8:56 of the second period proved to be the game winner, coming just 25 seconds after the Gulls had tied the game on Chris Wagner’s score. Auger took a feed from Mike Amadio after an offensive zone giveaway and beat San Diego goalie Matt Hackett high over the shoulder from left wing for his third goal of the series.
Playing on the second of back-to-back nights after a home overtime loss in Game 4, the Gulls (4-5 final playoff record) were out-shot 26-16 and struggled to generate quality chances against the AHL’s top ranked defense. The first period saw the Reign outshoot the Gulls 8-2 and smother San Diego’s attack. Saves by Hackett denying Mike Amadio and Jordan Samuels-Thomas kept the score-line even at zero.
An unfortunate giveaway by the netminder opened the scoring in the second period, as Hackett attempted to stick handle a puck behind his net, inadvertently passing instead to Ontario’s Joel Lowry alone just steps from an empty net. Lowry knocked home the gift for a 1-0 lead at 2:33.
The Gulls struck back on a clean rush from two players with NHL service time this season, as Nick Ritchie drove the left corner on a give-and-go with Chris Wagner before feeding Wagner in the slot for a wrist shot goal high over Peter Budaj (15 saves on 16 shots) for the 1-1 tie.
On the ensuing center ice draw, the Gulls tried to rush the offensive zone before a between-the-legs back pass found Amadio’s stick for the Reign. He fed Auger for the 2-on-1 rush that led to the eventual game-winning goal.
The Gulls’ best chance to tie came in the final minute of regulation, when a penalty and empty net allowed a 6-on-4 power play for the final 1:09. Matt Bailey’s shot from deep in the left circle on a rebound was stopped by Budaj on a post-to-post save, the literal last shot for San Diego this season.
The Reign advance to the AHL’s Western Conference Finals, where they will face either Lake Erie or Grand Rapids.
DALLAS EAKINS POSTGAME QUOTE:
“I think that’s a good starting point for our franchise. This group came from Norfolk last year. It was a team that finished well out of the playoffs, I think in the bottom five of the league. We came into a new market where we were heavily supported; we were inspired by our community and our fans. They responded with filling a building that is full of excitement and we were able to give them a little bit of playoff hockey. I think it’s a great step for our players, a great step for our organization and a great step for the community.”
1st Star: ONT Justin Auger (1-0=1, 5 SOG, +1 rating); 2nd Star: ONT Joel Lowry (1-0=1, 2 SOG, +1 rating); 3rd Star: ONT Mike Amadio (0-1=1, 2 SOG, +1 rating)