Gulls Set For Decisive Game 3May 24, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
Win or go home.
The final game of a playoff series is the stuff of legends. Fans spend the day with emotions tied in knots, hoping their team advances. Each team sits at the intersection of a season finale or the chance to move past the Pacific Division Semifinals and play on.
It’s a situation the San Diego Gulls fully embrace.
“It's do-or-die, and we're competitors,” Andrew Poturalski said this morning from Mechanics Bank Arena. “We're athletes and no one wants to lose. We all know what's at stake. We just need to go out there and compete tonight, outwork Bakersfield, play our game and stick to what's been successful for us all year.”
It looked as if the Gulls would avoid a decisive Game 3 matchup. The team sandwiched Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Trevor Carrick goals around a Cooper Marody tally in the first period of last night’s Game 2, bringing a 2-1 lead into the locker room. The score stayed the same through the second period and most of the final frame. Bakersfield even the scored at two with a Luke Esposito goal with 7:20 left in regulation to force overtime.
Seth Griffith ended the extra session quickly, with the Condors turning over the Gulls in the neutral zone and converting on an odd-man rush to give Bakersfield a 3-2 win.
It’s a costly mistake in a playoff series, but one the Gulls want to remember and learn from before tonight’s puck.
“You need to learn from your mistakes, obviously,” Gulls assistant coach Sylvain Lefebvre said. “That's exactly the case from the last night. On the goal they scored in overtime, we have to get the puck deep and get a change on that play. We just have to be puck responsible. I think last night, we relied too much on our skills and they outworked us at times. Saying that, we know we have a good team and we can play better than we did last night.”
One of those areas of improvement lies in the start of the game. Bakersfield holds the edge in first-period shots, 27-19, and put the Gulls on their heels at the start in the first two games of the series.
“You just have to come out and compete, right off the bat and the opening draw,” Poturalski explained. “The first line goes out there and throws a couple of hits, you get a couple shots on net, make a couple of plays and get the momentum in your favor. It's definitely huge in the sport we play. We just need to go out there and do that and get the boys going.”
Puck possession is another area of importance. In the second period of last night’s game, the Gulls settled into their defensive structure and kept the puck away from their opponent. They outshot the Condors, 17-6, with several of Bakersfield’s chances coming near the end of the middle frame.
“I think puck possession, so far, when we have the puck, we're a different team,” Lefebvre explained. “When we have to chase the puck and chase the game, it's tougher. We have to protect the inside ice, the slot or the house a little better, and prevent those scoring chances.”
San Diego’s roster is built with rookie players, with several turning in key seasons to get them to this point. In the group is netminder Lukas Dostal, who turned away 73-of-79 shots in his first two American Hockey League playoff starts, posting a 2.99 GAA and .924 SV%.
“It's awesome,” Lefebvre said of the rookie netminder. “It's so great. Even from the bench, there's a couple of times you're like, 'Oh no, it's going in,' but then he comes up with a kick save really quickly. It's amazing to have that type of goaltending. He's showed all season long that he has the potential and he has that gamer-type of game. He wants to make the difference, and he knows he can do it. He's a very confident goalie, and his confidence is showing everyone we can win this.”
The stage is set. At the end of the game – whenever it ends – one team will experience the thrill of flirting - and surviving - elimination, while the other stares into the abyss of the offseason.
“We know it's not going to be easy tonight,” Lefebvre said. “But if we bring our A game, we'll be fine.”