Lead by a strong defensive effort the Ontario Reign finished off the San Diego Gulls season with a 2-1 victory in Game 5 of the Pacific Division Finals. Goals by Justin Auger and Joel Lowry were all the Reign needed as the defense held the Gulls to only 16 shots for the game, including only six in the third period. With the victory Ontario moves on to the Western Conference Finals.
After a scoreless first period the Reign caught a break when Gulls goaltender Matt Hackett got a bit too careless with the puck behind his own net. Instead of taking the easy route and passing it around the boards he looked towards the middle and found the body of Lowry, who at that point had the whole net sitting right there. Lowry tapped it in, and the Reign took the lead.
“We knew both of their goalies like to play the puck so I tried to take the wall away and at the last second I figured he was going to go to the middle,” Lowry said. “Lucky enough he shot it right into me, and I had an empty net to put it in.
Seven minutes later, the Reign still had the lead, but the Gulls lost any momentum they might have had within 25 seconds. After a strong flurry in the San Diego zone by the Reign, the Gulls were able to break out of the zone with a 3-on-2 break. Nick Ritchie flew down the left side, pushing the Reign defenseman back leaving room for Chris Wagner in the center of the ice. Ritchie found Wagner streaking through the middle with a pass, Wagner quickly snapped a shot past Budaj high and to the blocker side. It got the Gulls back into the game and gave them the tying goal they were looking for it.
It was those short lived 25 seconds with the score tied at one where the Gulls had a chance. Justin Auger, who was celebrating his birthday on Saturday, found space on an odd man rush. Auger’s shot beat Hackett under the glove and put the Reign up and at the end of the night it turned out to hold up as the game winning goal.
The Gulls pressed as much as they could in the final five minutes of the game, but did not put a solid chance together until Sean Backman took an offensive zone tripping penalty with 1:09 left in the third giving them they much needed offensive zone time. Peter Budaj, who made 15 saves on the night, had his best save with 10.3 seconds left to preserve the win for Ontario and advancing them to the next round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Ontario will start the series next Saturday and Sunday at the Citizens Business Bank Arena against either the Lake Erie Monsters or the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Monsters currently have a 3-2 series lead, but have dropped the last two to Grand Rapids and now have to go back to Grand Rapids for Game 6.
Mersch – Dowd – Kempe
Backman – Amadio – Auger
Samuels-Thomas – Crescenzi – Newbury
Bissonnette – Horvat – Lowry
Gravel – Forbort
LoVerde – MacDermid
Schultz – Leslie