Gulls Drop Game 1, Face Elimination Tomorrow NightMay 4, 2022
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
The San Diego Gulls dropped Game 1 of their First Round series, falling 7-4 to the rival Ontario Reign in Game 1 of their best-of-three series tonight at Toyota Arena.
"I thought we were prepared," Gulls head coach Joel Bouchard said. "We came out exactly like we did. I think a couple of plays and they score and then we got affected by it. It took us a little while and then I thought we settled in, we were one goal away. Then, we give their power play some momentum - like some chances and they got some momentum. I don’t think it was our best overall.
"That being said, we have a lot of guys that just came with us, like first game for a lot of guys with us and some guys coming back from the NHL. So, I think we can be tighter, which will help us a little bit on both sides of the ice. I think the game got away from us a little bit and then we came back with a goal and it kind of got away from us a little bit again."
Vladimir Tkachev led the offensive charge, tying a career best with a three-point performance. Samuel Fagemo and Akil Thomas also scored twice as the Reign pushed San Diego to the brink of elimination.
Josh Lopina, Hunter Drew and Trevor Carrick scored in the loss. Lukas Dostal allowed six goals on 22 shots.
San Diego received the start it needed, capitalizing on a shaky Matthew Villalta to grab a two-goal lead.
Lopina opened the scoring, collecting his first professional playoff goal just 11 seconds into the game.
A hard forecheck forced a Reign turnover behind their net, with Alex Limoges controlling the puck behind the net. He fed a cutting Jacob Perreault, who brought the puck into the crease and tried to stuff it past Villalta. He made the first save but left a rebound for Lopina, who chipped it past the down-and-out goaltender for the game's first goal.
It marks the fastest goal to start a playoff game in Gulls AHL history (previous: 0:46, Chase De Leo; May 13, 2019 vs. Bakersfield).
Drew doubled the lead, scoring on a sharp-angle shot at 7:47 of the first frame.
Drew Helleson started the play from his own end, sending a pass to Nikolas Brouillard at center ice. He continued it into the Ontario end, with Drew collecting the puck along the side boards. The right wing carried it down to the goal line, throwing the puck toward Villalta. The Reign goaltender couldn't handle the puck, and it squeezed behind him for Drew's first goal of the postseason.
The second goal seemed to wake up Ontario, as they responded with three in the final 12-plus minutes to take a lead into the locker room.
Fagemo cut into the deficit, bringing Ontario within one with 9:34 left in the period. The second-year forward took a Tkachev pass and curled to the slot, firing a hard shot past Dostal for his first postseason goal.
Austin Wagner would even the score, converting on a shorthanded breakaway chance with six minutes left in the first. He intercepted a pass near the Gulls blue line, breaking in alone and shielding the puck from the oncoming Brouillard. He finished his chance with a shot past Dostal's blocker for his first postseason goal.
Fagemo's second goal of the game - a power-play tally - gave the Reign their first lead. A cross-ice pass from Christian Wolanin found the forward, who one-timed the puck past Dostal for Ontario's third goal of the period.
"Yeah, I think, obviously, getting that first goal right off the bat the guys are feeling good," Carrick said. "It was nice to have that momentum right off the bat. Guys were just feeling good right now.
"I don’t know. It kind of just fell apart after that, after they got their first goal. It’s a veteran team there. We knew that they weren’t going to sit back and they were going to push. That’s exactly what they did. Us being a younger team, we kinda got down a little bit and sat back and we can’t do that against a high-flying team like that. They’re kind of a run-and-gun team and they’re going to keep going. So, we have to push back and get it back in their zone and we were kinda unable to do that."
Things settled until late in the second, when Tkachev extended Ontario's lead, scoring on the power play with 3:57 left in the period.
The Russian forward deked around the Gulls defense to put himself in the slot, sliding the puck past Dostal for his first goal and third point of the game.
Heading into the series, the Gulls identified discipline and special teams as keys to an upset of the second-seeded Reign. Ontario entered the First Round with a historically great power play, finishing the regular season with the highest-scoring man-advantage unit in AHL history (72-for-262, 27.5%).
In addition, the Reign finished the regular season 11-for-42 (26.2%) against the Gulls on the power play, and continued to find success in Game 1.
"We were down by a goal, we missed a couple of really good opportunities on the power play and then we give a goal on the power play and we give two goals on the pk (penalty kill) so it’s right there, that’s the game," Bouchard said. "I don’t think five-on-five we were terrible. I think they’ve got some good shooters and you know, they find some holes."
Carrick would end Ontario’s unanswered offensive running, pulling San Diego within one early in the final frame.
Helleson curled the puck behind the net, fighting off a stick check and finding Blake McLaughlin at the post. The rookie couldn't stuff home a chance, but Helleson worked the puck free, sending a pass to Carrick sliding down from the point. The defenseman blasted a shot past the unsuspecting Villalta and into the back of the net for his first goal of the postseason.
Thomas responded just over two minutes later, restoring Ontario's two-goal lead with a wrist shot from the hash marks.
Martin Frk would push Ontario's lead to a game-high three goals with his first of the series, sending a slap shot past Dostal at 7:40 of the period. It chased the Gulls netminder, as Bouchard inserted Olle Eriksson Ek following the Reign's sixth goal of the game.
Thomas would score again - a shorthanded goal into the empty net - to tie a franchise record for the most goals allowed in a postseason game.
"I think that’s kinda been the story against them all year, the special teams," Carrick said. "Their special teams have just been outplaying ours. You know, when you give up a shorthanded goal, I think two shorthanded goals, and then give up a couple on the power play, when it comes to playoffs that’s what it can come down to sometimes, the special teams. We have to find a way to shut them down and on their PP (power play), you got a very skilled PP. A couple big shots and a pretty good playmaker in (T.J.) Tynan. If we can find a way to shut them down and then find a way to get our PP going we’ll be okay. Playoffs, that’s what it comes down to sometimes."
Limoges would find the back of the net late, ripping home a loose puck in the slot for his first professional postseason goal. Olen Zellweger picked up an assist, collecting his first professional point and assist on the tally.
San Diego will look to keep its season alive in a do-or-die Game 2 tomorrow night at Toyota Arena.
"Well, we don’t need to win five games, we need to win one," Bouchard said. "The focus is about tomorrow. I just think (it needs) to be better at a few areas. Just bring it up a little bit in like we did at the beginning and then I think we, I wouldn’t even say we let up after the first period. I don’t think it was a bad period just like they don’t need much and we didn’t frustrate them enough for me, but they’re a good team. You’ve got to give them credit because they’re good and let’s see what we can bring tomorrow."