Squaring off just hours after Ben Street took it home in OT for the Rampage last night, Ontario had to watch Street polish them off again in OT this Halloween.
Andrew Agozzino made an instant impact after a two-game absence, as he nudged San Antonio ahead on his first shift. Street cut across the slot, but Kevin Gravel was in place, blocking the Rampage wrister. However, the puck rebounded right in Agozzino's wheelhouse, and the AHL's fourth-leading goalscorer last year made no mistake as he picked Ray Emery's top left corner.
Ontario wasn't fazed by this bit of misfortune though, as they jumped out to to a 12-3 shots advantage midway into the opening frame. "One thing Stutts always preaches is stay even-keel," said Gravel. "Especially when they score, what, 24 seconds into the game? We still have the entire game to come back."
The Reign kept pouring it on, but Michael Mersch couldn't finish off a 2-on-1 with Nic Dowd, and then Justin Auger was stoned after a Jonny Brodzinski 3-on-1 feed. After one, shots were Ontario 21-4; San Antonio recorded just THREE shots after their opening shift. With an estimated 9-2 ES scoring chances advantage at this point, Ontario pretty much took this round in every way except for the scoreboard.
Really, the only thing to say?
The Reign continued to press early in the middle frame. Dowd dangled Duncan Siemens out of his skates. Pickard. Then Brodzinski found Jordan Samuels-Thomas in the slot with a seeing-eye feed. Pickard. Auger then rumbled on a shorthanded 2-on-1 with Andrew Crescenzi...and skyed it. All in all though, San Antonio had tightened up its ship, and period shots were knotted up four apiece with eight minutes left in an increasingly physical affair.
Ontario did get an opportunity to breathe when Sam Henley took a tripping penalty with five minutes left. But again, Calvin Pickard was equal to the task, stopping Derek Forbort, who seemed like he was alone in the slot for an hour. San Antonio kept handing out free candy: 53 seconds after killing the Henley tripping, Mason Geertsen was kind enough to get caught for some interference. But the Reign attack went quietly into the locker room, still down what now seemed like a Mt. Baldy-sized deficit of one.
For the most part, the final frame went according to San Antonio's cautious plans.
However, in one thrilling sequence, Mersch-Dowd-Zykov threatened to foil the Rampage's scheme. Dowd was stonewalled on a wraparound, and seconds later, Mersch tried to stuff home a loose puck. Pickard pickarded, and with the Reign forwards stuck down low, the Rampage were off on a 2-on-1. Gravel laid low though, sealing off Mikko Rantanen's attempt at a cross-ice dish.
But save for this series of events, San Antonio choked any Ontario surge. The Reign didn't record a shot for over ten minutes, as the Rampage (in black) clogged the neutral zone so:
It would've been easy for Ontario to get frustrated, but they took heart in how they had performed earlier. Dowd touched on the team's mood, "Like we were saying on the bench, we just got to continue to stick to what we were doing."
With a couple minutes left and desperate for some offense, Mike Stothers pulled Emery. That seemed to give the Reign a boost, and they were finally able to push back with some shot attempts on Pickard. Then with just 44 ticks left, Gravel—him again!—flung a shot from above the circles and through the forest of skaters that had sprung above the San Antonio netminder. Goal! The defender was quick to credit Sean Backman for the backhanded set-up: "Nothing special, really. We just chipped the puck in and ended up setting it up a little bit. Backs made a really nice play, got the puck to me up top...I don't think [Pickard] saw it."
So for the second consecutive night, a seemingly defeated Ontario squad had fought back to force OT.
3-on-3, however, went much the same as last night. Ontario, perhaps hampered by their general lack of speed, couldn't generate any very dangerous chances. Scooping up an errant Dowd pass halfway into the extra frame, Agozzino raced down the pike for a breakaway, sending it wide. The Reign responded by almost springing Mersch for a breakaway, but the big winger couldn't catch up to the puck. Then capitalizing on another Dowd turnover, Agozzino and Street had all the time in the world on a 2-on-1, and Vincent LoVerde was unable to cut off a bullet Agozzino feed that resulted in a Street tap-in.
By the way, Street already has 14 points in just seven games.
After the game, the Reign seemed to be in an upbeat mood despite consecutive losses, as they have kept up a high standard of play. Even Forbort cracked, "I feel bad coming down and we're 0-2."
Stothers summarized things accurately: "The guys were playing well, we were getting plenty of opportunities. Now if we weren't getting any opportunities, that might get you a little frustrated. We were getting lots of good looks, and there was times there we had them on their heels."