PREVIEW: Gulls vs. ReignMar 23, 2019
With the playoff race in full force and nine games remaining on the schedule, the Gulls begin a four-game homestand tonight against their Southern California rival Ontario Reign at Pechanga Arena San Diego (7:00 p.m., TV: FOX 5 San Diego, Radio: Mighty 1090). The Gulls enter tonight with points in three straight games (2-0-1-0) with a 6-3-0-1 against the Reign this season, including wins in four of the last five meetings.
The Gulls return home after splitting a two-game series against the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg and following an overtime win against the Bakersfield Condors, collecting five of six possible standings points on the short road trip. The Gulls prevailed in the initial matchup against Manitoba, as Jake Dotchin scored twice and Kevin Boyle made 38 saves to earn his 21st win of the season. Two nights later, the Gulls nearly overcame a 3-0 deficit to sweep the series, but Kristian Vesalainen won it for the Moose in overtime, forcing San Diego to settle for three of four points on the team’s lone trip to Canada this season.
“We're taking it one game at a time. These are a big two points,” said Gulls forward Kiefer Sherwood. “It's a tight playoff race, but we're not satisfied by any means. We're trying to get home ice. We know we have very good fans and want to use that to our advantage."
San Diego (32-20-4-3, 71 points) enters play Saturday sitting second in the Pacific Division, one point ahead of San Jose, but with the Barracuda having two games in hand. The Gulls are also one point ahead of fourth-place Colorado but have two games in hand on the Eagles entering tonight. With just a lone point separating second, third, and fourth place in the division, the Gulls, Barracuda, and Colorado Eagles all hold a healthy lead over the fifth-place Tucson Roadrunners (63 points) in the race to clinch a spot in the AHL playoffs. Ontario currently sits last in the Pacific Division and are on the cusp of missing the postseason for the first time in the club’s four-year history.
“We’re treating every game like it’s a playoff game at this point,” said Gulls forward Sam Carrick. “We want to be ready to go for when playoffs come. We’re not taking any game lightly at this point, even though Ontario is at the bottom of the standings. At this time of year, those teams are usually the dangerous teams, the ones that are kind of out of it.”
To get to the postseason, San Diego’s magic number is 13 entering Saturday, meaning any combination of the Gulls gaining points and the fifth-place Pacific Division team losing points puts the magic number that much closer to zero and a playoff berth for San Diego.
The Gulls boast one of the league’s most potent offenses, ranking second in the AHL in goals per game (3.54), and will face a Reign team that has struggled to keep the puck out of their own net. The Reign currently sit last in the AHL in goals (4.04) and shots (36.5) allowed per game. San Diego has scored 43 goals in 10 games against the Reign this season. Sam Carrick leads the Gulls with 7-5=12 points against Ontario.
“They are always a dangerous team for us and the competition level is high,” said Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins. “There’s not a whole lot of love lost for each other so it’s always a competitive game.”
When the two teams last met in Ontario on Feb. 8, Chase De Leo and Corey Tropp each scored twice, Jeff Glass made 28 saves, and Dallas Eakins earned his 300th AHL coaching victory as the Gulls prevailed 6-4. Matt Moulson scored twice and added an assist for Ontario, as the veteran winger has found the back of the net in each of his last four games against San Diego.
Moulson is the focal point of the Ontario offense, leading the Reign in goals (25), assists (30), points (55), and power-play goals (13). Rookie Sheldon Rempal has collected 15-25=40 in his debut season, including 2-4=6 points against the Gulls, and made his NHL debut with the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 18. Second-year netminder Cal Petersen has emerged as the top goaltender for the Reign this season, posting a 10-16-3 record with an .896 save percentage. Petersen has allowed 25 goals in six games against the Gulls this season.