Gulls Win Streak Hits SixFeb 17, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls are earning their comeback kids moniker.
Despite falling behind for a sixth straight game, San Diego bounced back to defeat the Bakersfield Condors, 4-3, tonight at FivePoint Arena. With the win, San Diego became the first Pacific Division club to begin a season with six consecutive victories since the division’s inception in 2015-16. The team leads the American Hockey Leage in wins (6) and points (12).
Vinnie Lettieri scored the game-winning tally in the third period, and rookies Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jacob Perreault scored their first professional goals to help the Gulls overcome tonight's deficit, a two-goal hole early in the first period.
Lukas Dostal stopped 37-of-40 shots to grab his league-leading fifth win of the season. The rookie netminder also leads the AHL in saves (189), minutes played (300) and save percentage (.950, min. 60 saves).
"I think maybe they’re trying to tell us they don’t like pregame skates," head coach Kevin Dineen joked following the win. "We had one game where we didn’t and that was our best start by far. At the end of it, they had three scoring chances in the first period and two of them went on.
"Obviously, it’s an issue for us that we have to address here. Just a little more stability, I’m not looking for an explosion at the beginning, but just a little more balance. At the end of it, I like the score at the end of the night."
Bakersfield grabbed the early momentum, scoring two goals in 20 seconds before the game reached its five-minute mark.
Brad Malone started the scoring, grabbing the game's first goal at 4:29 of the opening frame. Joseph Gambardella came down aggressively on the forecheck, batting a clearing attempt by Trevor Carrick into the middle of San Diego's defensive zone. Malone quickly pounced on it, whipping a wrist shot past Dostal to put Bakersfield ahead.
Luke Esposito extended the advantage just 20 seconds later, scoring at 4:49 of the first period. Markus Niemelainen fired a shot through traffic and on net, forcing Dostal to make a quick pad save. The goalie kicked it right to the stick of Esposito, who fired it back into the net for his first goal of the season.
San Diego's rookies responded, pulling the Gulls even with two goals in 48 seconds after the halfway mark of the opening period.
Groulx also collected his first professional goal, putting San Diego on the board at 12:36 of the period.
Rookie Bryce Kindopp - making his professional debut - skated with the puck along the side boards, feeding a pass to Josh Mahura at the point. The defenseman sent a low shot toward net, and Groulx darted from behind the goal line to deflect it past Skinner for the goal.
"We started in the d-zone on the faceoff," Groulx said. "Kindopp helped me win it, he had great burst of speed straight through the offensive zone. He passed it right back to Josh Mahura who made a great shot. I was just in front of the net where you score goals and got a tip on it. I got very lucky honestly but it was a great play by Josh and Bryce so I got to give them credit."
Perreault tied the game, scoring his first professional with 6:36 left in the first period.
Antoine Morand and Matt Lorito battled for a puck behind Bakersfield's net, eventually working the puck to an open Perreault at the hash mark. Anaheim's 27th overall selection at the 2020 NHL Draft collected the puck before snapping a wrist shot past Skinner for the equalizer.
"I think our line did a pretty good job of getting it deep," he explained following the win. "[Antoine Morand] and [Matt Lorito] did a pretty good job down low and the puck popped up loose. I ended up being in the right spot and just tried to get it on net. It was a good feeling to get the first one out of the way."
The two teams traded goals - and punches - as the scoring and physicality picked up in the middle frame.
San Diego's Carrick brothers teamed up to give the Gulls their first lead of the game, with Trevor Carrick collecting his first goal as a Gull.
Andrew Poturalski and Sam Carrick worked behind the net, with the Gulls captain emerging from a board battle with the puck. He skated to the circles as his brother, defenseman Trevor, set himself up between the hash marks. A quick pass was all he needed, as the younger Carrick sent a wrist shot through the legs of Skinner for the goal.
Bakersfield pulled even at 6:07 of the second period on a Cooper Marody tally. The center weaved his way through San Diego at their blue line, snapping a quick shot to the far post to beat Dostal.
The game turned physical around the midway mark of the middle period, with Carrick and Bakersfield right wing Vincent Desharnais dropping the gloves for a spirited brawl right near the penalty boxes.
"He’s a captain for a reason," Perreault said. "He leads by example. It’s good to have him on our team. He shows us something to look up to. It’s good to have him also to protect us and know we’re safe out there. We’ve got so many guys on the team who are here for us and we’re here for them. I think it goes along with the whole team. We’re all there for each other."
Lettieri would put San Diego ahead for good just 26 seconds into the third period, securing the team's sixth straight win.
Jamie Drysdale carried the puck into the offensive zone, laying a heavy wrist shot into Skinner. Bakersfield's goalie failed to corral the puck, and Lettieri crashed the crease to knock home the rebound for his third goal of the season.
The Exclesior, MN has three goals in three games with the Gulls. Lettieri ranks tied for fifth among league leaders in points per game (1.67) and goals (3).
Sonny Milano - skating with San Diego on a Long-Term Injury Conditioning Loan - picked up his first assist of the season.
"We have some great skill, we’re very well built on the backside," Dineen said. "All those players are playing up to their capabilities this year which has made it, well not easy, we’ve played a lot of close hockey games, and that’s part of the character building too. Yeah, our record is 6-0, but there is a lot of grind that went into those wins."
Skinner, making his second start since his reassignment to Bakersfield from the Edmonton Oilers, stopped 30 shots in the loss. Gambardella finished with a team-leading two points (2a), his first multi-point game of the season.
The same two teams will finish a home-and-home series on Friday in Bakersfield at 6 p.m. PT.