The Ontario Reign started their defense of the Calder Cup well, picking up Game 1 of their opening round series versus the San Jose Barracuda by a score of 2-1. 24 hours later, the two teams were back at it for Game 2 from San Jose. On home ice, the Barracuda took a bite out of the Reign, winning Game 2 and evening the series at one game a piece.
Both teams came out with a shaky start, as neither team played very good hockey for half a period. Through the first 10 minutes of the game, the two teams combined for only four shots on goal.
Ontario saw the best chances of the period, with Barracuda goalie Aaron Dell coming up big to stop a Justin Auger chance from the middle of the slot before later denying Jonny Brodzinski, who scored the game-winner in Game 1, on a breakaway. Unfortunately for the Reign, the team was not only able to slip one past Dell, but they lost veteran center Andrew Crescenzi to an injury midway through the frame. Crescenzi did not return to the game.
San Jose grabbed their first lead of the series early in the second after Ryan Carpenter deflected a shot past Peter Budaj. A blind and errant pass from Kurtis MacDermid from the left corner found Barracuda defenseman Joakim Ryan’s stick at the top of the circles.
The hometown Barracuda jumped out to a 2-0 lead 10 minutes later off the stick of their captain, Bryan Lerg. Racing Reign defenseman Derek Forbort for a loose puck, Lerg was able to win the battle and turn Forbort inside out, drive to the net, and find the back of the net.
Ontario brought the game within one early in the third period. Struggling earlier in the game to get traffic in front of the net, the Reign were finally able to successfully screen Dell, as MacDermid’s wrist shot from the point beat the netminder.
Minutes later, the Barracuda lead was once again pushed to two, as Nikolay Goldobin was on the finishing end of a beautiful give-and-go with linemate Jeremy Langlois. Driving the middle of the ice, Goldobin dished off to Langois directly to his right. Langlois slid the puck back to the young Russian forward, who was able to sneak past Vincent LoVerde and tap the puck into the open net.
With under a minute left in regulation, Ontario once again drew within one, as Brodzinski netted his second of the series. Nic Dowd forced a turnover along the right boards in the offensive zone and backhanded a pass cross-ice to a wide open Brodzinski, who one-timed the puck past Dell with authority.
Despite their best efforts, the Reign were unable to force overtime and fell by a final score of 3-2. San Jose has tied the series at one game a piece as the two teams shift down to Ontario for Game 3.
Some of the Reign’s struggles can be credited to a lack of a net-front presence for most of the game. Despite the lopsided shot difference, a large amount of the shots generated by Ontario were perimeter shots with not much going on to impede Dell’s vision. Granted, there were also a plethora of quality opportunities turned aside by Dell, as the netminder undoubtedly was a key cog in the Barracuda victory.
“You can look at the shot clock, and if you weren’t watching the game or here at the game, you’d probably think that we had territorial advantage, and that’s not the case at all. They capitalized on their opportunities,” explained head coach Mike Stothers.
For the second game in a row, Brodzinski played tremendous hockey. Not only did he score in both games, but he has consistently found a way to be a threat in the offensive zone. Though it took him a while to find his game at the pro level, the St. Cloud alum has hit his stride and figured out what it takes to contribute at the AHL level.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s been a bit of a struggle for Mike Mersch. The power forward was an absolute menace during last year’s Calder Cup run, terrorizing every goalie he faced. While he still works hard and drives the net, he has struggled to create a real presence in front of Dell through two games, and will need to step up his game going forward.
After the game, no update was available on Crescenzi, but don’t be surprised if he is unable to go for Game 3. Should he be held out of the lineup, expect Ryan Horvat to draw back in in his place.
Lines for Friday’s game were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Adrian Kempe – Brett Sutter – Jonny Brodzinski
Jordan Samuels-Thomas – Kris Newbury – Justin Auger
Joel Lowry – Andrew Crescenzi – Paul Bissonnette
Kurtis MacDermid – Vincent LoVerde
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
Jeff Schultz – Nick Ebert
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