April 15, 2017

The San Diego Gulls (43-20-3-2, 91 pts.) celebrated Fan Appreciation Night and closed out their 2016-17 regular season with a 5-3 win over the Ontario Reign (36-21-10-1; 83 pts.) in front of a sellout crowd of 12,920 fans at Valley View Casino Center on Saturday night. The Gulls finished the season third overall in the AHL and second in the Western Conference with a .669 winning percentage. San Diego will begin the Calder Cup Playoffs vs. the Ontario Reign in a best-of-five series on Friday, Apr. 21 at Valley View Casino Center (7 p.m.).

“Unbelievable,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins on the third sellout crowd this season. “Every time you think you have seen it all in this building our fans turn it up a notch. It was deafening at times on the bench tonight. Their passion is inspiring and I think it has really driven our team here at home. We look forward to more of that in the playoffs.”

The Gulls closed out the season with a 15-6-1-0 record in the last 22 games, had wins in 25 of their last 34 contests (25-8-1-0) and 32 of the last 43 overall (32-9-1-1). San Diego also earned standings points in 20 of the last 28 (19-8-1-0), as well as in 36 of 45 contests since Dec. 26 (32-9-2-2). Additionally, the club earned wins in nine of their past 11 home contests and has posted a 15-3-0 record at home since Jan. 7.

Kevin Roy’s 16th goal of the campaign got San Diego on the board first at 13:16 of the opening period. Ondrej Kase’s centering pass zipped past a few Ontario defensemen and found Roy who ripped the puck by Reign netminder Jack Campbell (31-15-6).

Tyler Morley took an interference penalty 42 seconds after Roy’s goal and Ontario cashed in on Jonny Brodzinski’s 26th goal of the campaign to tie the game 1-1.

Midway through the second stanza Ontario ran into penalty trouble when Chaz Reddekopp and Justin Auger took minor penalties in a span of 1:32. The Reign survived Reddekopp’s penalty, but could not erase Auger’s infraction as Kase finished off a four-on-one with a deke and backhand that found the top corner of the net to give San Diego a 2-1 lead.

Jhonas Enroth’s miscue a little over three minutes later resulted in Ontario tying the game at 2-2 when the Swedish goaltender misplayed the puck and Reign defenseman Zach Leslie’s quick shot beat the veteran as he was trying to get back into his crease.

Late in the middle frame, San Diego regained the lead when Zac Larraza corralled the rebound of Brian Cooper’s wrist shot and slid a shot past Campbell. The goal marked Larraza’s first since Jan. 22 at Ontario.

The Gulls ran into some penalty trouble of their own in the third period and paid for it on Brodzinski’s second goal of the evening at 8:44. On a two-on-one, Brodzinski took a feed from Michael Mersch and buried a wrist shot by Enroth to tie the game 3-3.

San Diego took the lead for good only 30 seconds later on Cooper’s wrist shot from the right circle that beat Campbell to his glove side. Cooper’s two-point night (1-1=2) gave him a three-game point streak (1-3=4) to close out the regular season.

“We see them again in less than a week,” said Cooper. “Being able to set the tone against them like we did tonight was big. I think it’s crucial for us to a put a little doubt in their minds before the series starts.”

Escondido native Austin Ortega pushed the Gulls’ lead to 5-3 with a late power-play goal at 14:08 of the final frame. The goal marked Ortega’s first at Valley View Casino Center and he finished the regular season with 4-1=5 points in six games since joining San Diego on Mar. 20.

Gulls netminder Jhonas Enroth (16-5-0) made 19 saves to improve to 14-4-0 with a 1.73 GAA and .936 SV% in 18 games since being acquired from Toronto on Jan. 10. Enroth finished the season leading the AHL with a 1.91 GAA and .931 SV% (minimum 21 games).

“It’s always good to finish with a win,” said Eakins. “The game didn’t mean much in terms of the standings, but when you get these two teams together there is absolutely no love lost. This sets the tone for our playoff series.”

San Diego begins its 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs First Round series vs. the Ontario Reign at Valley View Casino Center next Friday, Apr. 21 (7 p.m.). A limited number of tickets are available by visiting AXS.com/Gulls or by phone at (619) 359-4730.

NOTES: San Diego forward Nic Kerdiles tallied his eighth assist and has 3-2=5 points in his last eight games…Antoine Laganiere also recorded his 16th helper of the season, matching his career-high set in 2015-16..San Diego defenseman James Melindy (0-1=1) registered his first point as a Gull…San Diego finished the year with a 37-19-2-2 mark against the Pacific Division, the most inter-division wins among any teams in the Pacific…Ontario netminder Jack Campbell (31-15-6) stopped 28-of-33 shots in his 15th loss of the season.

Three Stars:
1. Brian Cooper (SD)
2. Ondrej Kase (SD)
3. Austin Ortega (SD)