Reign players, coaches and fans had four simple words on their minds all day long Tuesday:
Win or stay home.
Since visiting the western conference final in 2016, Mike Stothers’ Reign squad had earned a playoff birth twice, but failed to win a playoff series. They looked to reverse that, stave off elimination at The Vault (CBBA) and force a decisive game 5 in Texas.
It was evident that one team was up against the ropes as Michael Mersch and Jonny Brodzinski each created quality chances less than 10 minutes in. The Reign began the game playing how they needed to, hounding every loose puck and finishing every hit. Ontario’s desperation made the sledding tough for Texas. Being outshot until their power play chance to end the frame, the Stars best chances came on broken plays and were stymied by goaltender Cal Petersen. Ontario rookie and leading playoff goal scorer Phillipe Maillet took the penalty but Petersen and the penalty kill unit were able to keep the game scoreless as the period ended. Ontario effectively killed the first Texas power play, with help from the first intermission, and began what started as arguably the most important 20 minutes of their season.
While many periods are the most important of the year at a given moment in a game, the reasoning for Tuesday’s second period is as follows: Ontario struggled during the year in overtime and shootout games, going just 1-7. They lost in overtime in game one of the series in Texas and lost in double overtime Sunday and gave up the lead in the third period of both games. Some might see the results as those of a tightly contested series and they would be partially correct. The true problem is the Reign struggled to find ways to win late in games all year and have done so twice in this series alone. Securing a lead in the second frame was paramount to their success in game four and the continuance of their 2017-18 season.
They were afforded a great opportunity to do so when they received a power play chance less than two minutes into the second period. The Reign were unable to capitalize on the man advantage, nor were they able to find pay dirt during a two minute 4-on-4 period when Paul LaDue and Travis Morin took offsetting penalties. Another Ontario power play followed the offsetting calls and they remained unable to find the back of the net. The best chance of the period for either team came on a shorthanded odd-man rush and off the stick of former Montreal Canadien Brian Flynn. That was until Oscar Fantenberg fired a shot that was tipped by Justin Auger, but missed just wide. Ontario may not have climbed out to the lead they needed despite the man advantage chances and constant push, but they weren’t completely out of it either. As the second period ended this is how things stood:
The bad news: Ontario didn’t have the lead after two periods of play.
The good news: They didn’t have a lead to try and protect during a period that has proven difficult for them.
The reality: The Reign needed to conjure up a way to grab a lead and hold it to keep the season alive.
LaDue began the remnant of the 4-on-4 shift in the third period by firing a puck right past Texas goaltender Mike Mckenna’s ear after a quick zone entry. The Reign immediately turned the amp up to 11 in order to keep their season alive, firing off four shorts within the first two minutes of the third. They continued to pour on the pressure until a Texas fast break led by Jason Dickinson pass to Roope Hintz. Hintz fired a perfectly playable shot off Petersen’s left pad and former first round pick Denis Gurianov slid the rebound home for the first goal and lead of the contest.
Ontario’s worst fears were realized as Texas entered lock down mode immediately and the door was effectively shut. In response, Stothers began to shorten the bench and produce more potent line combinations (Brodzinski, Amadio & Moulson) to net the critical goal. Unfortunately for the 2017-2018 Ontario Reign, they were unable to find that goal Tuesday night. Texas would win the game 1-0, the series 3-1 and become the first team to move on to the second round of the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Stothers spoke to the media following the conclusion of the game regarding the season, the series, third periods and Reign goaltender Cal Petersen.
On starting 0-6 and still making the playoffs: Well just to even get in the playoffs after starting 0 and 6, because at that point you’re just thinking about winning a game. Credit to the guys to stick with it, we battled back and at various points we were second in our division, third, fourth and dead-dog last after our 0-6 start. I couldn’t be more proud of the guys, I thought it was terrific. Although you want it to go forever, I’m not going to take anything away, they made a lot of strides. A lot of teams could have rolled over. Our guys, they dug in deep and it was a battle all the way.
On the hot goaltender determining the series: Which hot goalie? (Mike McKenna) Ours was pretty damn good. Cal Petersen is the best damn goalie in the league.
On having struggled in third periods in two previous losses: You just keep playing. You just keep playing until you score. If it’s 1-1, 4-4 or 0-0, nothing has been determined right? You gotta find a way to score, we put a lot of pucks to the net, everybody worked hard. As a coach, you can’t ask anything more from your players. Those guys, they bled for me, I’m a lucky guy. We’ve got some great players and great leaders. They lay their life on the line for you, I’ll never complain. We’re still winners.
That’ll be it for our coverage from Ontario this season. A huge thank you to all the fans that keep us on our toes covering all things Los Angeles Kings.
Stay tuned for upcoming Mayor’s Minutes, roster updates and for the critically acclaimed Kings of The Round Table show due out later this summer. Here is last year’s version to hold you over.
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