Gulls Win Historic Game 1 in Fourth OvertimeMay 4, 2019
Fifth-longest game in AHL history sealed by Max Comtois’ goal 124:20 into Game 1 of Pacific Division Finals
By Steve Brown
There hasn’t been a bigger, or later, goal in Gulls postseason history.
It may be too early to declare such a statement, but Max Comtois’ goal in the fourth overtime at 12:20 a.m. Saturday morning ended the fifth-longest game in AHL history.
They faced the specter of disappointment, faced adversity head on through fatigue, adrenaline and perseverance to play 124:20, seven periods of hockey in a Game 1 that five hours and 10 minutes.
Jeff Glass made save after save, 51 in fact. Condors goaltender Shane Starrett matched him save for save. Glass repeatedly turned aside Bakersfield, making a game-saving stops on a Joe Gambardella breakaway and numerous grade-A scoring chances. Through it all, he held his crease in a calm demeanor and willed his team to a third straight win this postseason.
It wasn’t a must win, but it might have been. Defeat in a manner such as that early Saturday morning could last into the series. But it never happened for San Diego. They continued to pressure throughout four overtime sessions, with a new face stepping into the spotlight – Max Comtois.
It was his Calder Cup Playoffs debut, and he did it again. Comtois is a goal scorer, and in a span of 213 days, he’s proved it at every level of hockey. He scored 49 seconds into his NHL debut on Oct. 3 at San Jose to mark the fastest to start an NHL career since 1989 when Buffalo’s Alexander Mogilny scored 20 seconds into the first period on Oct. 5, 1989 vs. Quebec.
Comtois then scored 2:26 into his AHL debut with San Diego on Nov. 10 vs. Colorado. He joined Drummondville of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and scored 7:35 into his season debut with the Voltigeurs on Nov. 30 vs. Gatineau. As captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, he scored four goals in the first game of the tournament. He may not have scored in his QMJHL Playoffs debut, but he earned an assist and then scored a hat trick in Game 2 of the First Round series.
He scores big goals, and goals at every level.
Saturday morning wasn’t the first overtime winner in the postseason this year for Comtois. Saturday was just his first as a professional. In the late hours of a Second Round game against Sherbrooke, the Quebec native scored 28:09 into overtime, netting the double-overtime winner in Game 5 on April 12 to send Drummondville to the next round.
The Anaheim Ducks second-round selection (50th overall) in 2017 appeared in four overtime games in the QMJHL this spring, and his first of the Calder Cup Playoffs was the biggest moment to date in Gulls history and one of the latest moments in AHL folklore. Only four other games in the league’s 80-plus years of history have ended at a later stage than Saturday morning’s epic marathon.
“We were ready to go,” said Comtois when asked about coming out for each overtime. “Everybody was smiling, we had the right mindset and we wanted to get the next goal and go back to sleep.
“This is why we play hockey. Every time you have the chance to close a game or play in big time hockey, it’s fun. We have an amazing team here. We have good four lines, six day that can play. It’s nice to be here and we’re just happy to get the win and try to do it again tomorrow.”
But it was that goal, in the biggest game to date for the 20-year old.
“Just gave it to (Kevin Roy) and he made a sick play to get both (defensemen) to him and give me some space. Just find a way to put it in,” explained Comtois in the early stages of Saturday morning. “We were pretty tired with four overtimes so we’re just happy to have the win.”
Head coach Dallas Eakins addressed his team during each of the four, 15-minute intermissions preceding the overtimes. It wasn’t until intermission prior to the fourth OT that he was at a loss for words.
“We did a lot of talking in between each (intermission) and basically just trying to stick with our habits. As that game goes along, obviously fatigue setting in. That's when your habits will start to fall away,” said Eakins following Game 1. “We wanted to stay sharp mentally. Interesting enough, going into the last overtime, I was upfront and honest with them.”
“I told them, ‘I got barely anything more to say to you guys and we need to end this now because I’ve run out of thoughts and direction.’ That was just a hell of an effort by every one of our guys. We were down to five defensemen early in the game so those guys logged a lot of ice.”
Fitness is a focal point of every team. Fitness is an even more focal point of a Dallas Eakins team. All season long the Gulls took pride in their ability to outwork teams late in games. With nine days between games, Eakins’ club upped their intensity day by day. It paid off.
“One thing we value with our team is our fitness level. We’ve worked really hard on it this year and it paid off.”
But what really paid off was rolling four lines and his three D pairs throughout the game, something Eakins has done from the start of the season. Relying on the 18 skaters as opposed to shortening the bench, the veteran bench boss trusts his young group to get the job done whether it’s making a simple play, or being put in a high-pressure situation.
A high-pressure situation is the onus that was put on the trio of Comtois-Roy and Ducks first-round pick (23rd overall in 2018) Isac Lundestrom. Comtois and Lundestrom were playing their respective first games with San Diego since November. Roy had missed the last eight regular-season games and the First Round series against San Jose with a lower-body injury and was making his first appearance since Mar. 23.
“We put them together in practice this week and they were very good,” said Eakins of the three forwards. “Throughout the game, they looked fine out there. As the game went on, I thought they were getting better and better. Kevin Roy hasn’t played in quite a long time. For me, with not only those guys, but all of our players, you have to trust them. I think when you trust them, they feel that trust and they usually play very well. Just a real good night, not only by that line, but by all of our guys.”
But what is it like playing more two-plus games in one night? Two games…one night. And then some.
“It’s already tomorrow, right now,” added Eakins following the game.
Game 2 is tonight, and the Gulls have a chance to take a commanding lead in the series.