After outshooting San Jose 52-26 on Wednesday, but losing 4-2, would you believe Ontario's encore would be outshooting Bakersfield 39-17...but losing?
But first, a public service announcement:
cc: NHL general managers pic.twitter.com/6x06b66DnN— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 13, 2016
Five minutes into the tilt, it was the hosts who would be most welcoming, as Vincent LoVerde and Andrew Crescenzi botched a routine breakout. As usual, the Captain took the blame, "Didn't put it on his stick. It's my fault." From the top of the right circle in, Anton Slepyshev proceeded to turnstile LoVerde and Paul Bissonnette, taking the expressway to the net as Jeff Schultz and Crescenzi, both preoccupied by one Marc-Olivier Roy, stood by:
This set precedent for the contest. The Reign would pile on the shots, but the Condors would have the very best chances. Not that the hosts were suffering in this regard though.
With about seven minutes left, Nic Dowd sizzled a cross-ice pass through David Musil in front to Sean Backman sneaking through the back door. But it was the sneak who would get caught, as Anders Nilsson went post to post to glove Backman's power play one-timer. The All-Star winger could only look to the stars for guidance.
Just a minute later though, Justin Auger snuck one by Nilsson's high glove from the top of the right circle. It was the surprising Auger's 11th of the season, tying Backman for second on the squad.
After 20, the Reign had raced out to a 20-8 shots and 5-2 even strength chances edge. Twenty shots. All this, despite the Condors letting three power plays go to waste, while the home team only enjoyed one.
Reign's highest SOG total in one period is 21. Did that last gm vs SJ and vs SA on Oct. 31— Lindsay Czarnecki (@ReignInsider) February 13, 2016
Bakersfield tightened its belt in the middle frame. About seven minutes in, both teams had combined for just three shots. But it was Backman, once again, with opportunity: Tyler Pitlick bobbled the puck at his OZ boards, and the Ontario star dashed off by himself. As the speedy winger cut toward Nilsson from the blueline in, a hard backchecking Jordan Oesterle sprawled to prevent a 2-on-1 pass to Adrian Kempe, who was streaking down the slot. Undeterred, Backman tested Oesterle but was expelled—no shot, no chance.
In all, it was a fairly highlight-free second, save for the very last second. As the Condors swooped into the zone for one final rush, Backman, Dowd, and Schultz went bird watching. The species? Andrew Miller, who dished the puck from the point. Meanwhile, Jujhar Khaira glided into the slot unmarked—outskating Michael Mersch from the neutral zone in—for a "nothing but net" buzzer-beater.
Of course, Christian Ehrhoff was visibly upset with more than just the timing, "Looked to me like it was offside. They didn’t call it." Coach Mike Stothers, however, refused to excuse his charges, "I don’t know if we let up because we thought it was offside, but still no excuse, you’ve got to play through it.
"Was it offside? I don’t think so."
From perhaps missing an offsides to crediting the backup goalie with a goal...it was truly a minor league comedy of errors to end the second.
Press box fun. Condors goalie Laurikainen with his first goal of the year? pic.twitter.com/WCunj0uOr8— Lindsay Czarnecki (@ReignInsider) February 13, 2016
Nonetheless, it was the Reign who were responsible for just one ES chance in this period. Could they conjure any of that comeback magic tonight?
For their first trick...they played themselves. Auger, who was covering for a pinching Derek Forbort, had a Miller clearing attempt pinball off of him, springing Khaira and Rob Klinkhammer for a 2-on-1. Khaira to Klinkhammer, Klinkhammer to Khaira, off a backchecking Mersch in the slot...and it was 3-1, just 39 seconds in.
Mersch lamented, "I was trying to make a good play, trying to stop the pass from coming back across because I knew that was the only play he had.
"I thought I had my stick all the way on the ice, but it just went right under my knob, right where my fingers grip the stick, and it went right under and slid into the net."
Crossing over two periods, Condors goals come just 20 seconds apart. The latest the Reign have given up a goal and the earliest in a period— Lindsay Czarnecki (@ReignInsider) February 13, 2016
But as usual, Ontario showed no quit. With about 13 minutes to go, Dowd drew Bakersfield's PK to him at the right dot, finding Backman all alone at the left dot. Rolling puck wide. Shortly thereafter, Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Valentin Zykov played whack-a-mole off a Crescenzi rebound. It was some scramble:
This is your brain This is your brain on AHL Live: pic.twitter.com/sfQi3QUrSb— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 13, 2016
But a little more than halfway into the final frame, both teams had just seen six total shots. The Condors were bending, but not breaking. So the Reign pushed a little harder, finally breaking through with Michael Houser pulled and just a minute left, as Dowd, cruising through the slot, deflected a Ehrhoff blast past Nilsson.
But that was all she wrote for Ontario, as 91 shots for & 43 shots against have yielded four goals & two straight losses. Count on Stothers to look at the bright side, "We’ve had this situation come up at times during the season earlier and we’ve managed to get through it and we’ll get through this one too."
They'll look in particular at Kempe (one goal in the 15 games since his return from World Juniors), Backman (one goal in seven games), and Kris Newbury (one goal in the six games since his return from injury) to get them through as soon as tonight against Stockton.
See full game highlights at AHL Live.