SAN JOSE, Calif. — Pushed to the limit at their own game, defending champs Ontario Reign managed to pull out a late Game One 2-1 victory over the San Jose Barracuda.
With just four minutes left in this deadlocked affair, Jonny Brodzinski, floating free in the slot, deked Aaron Dell for the winning tap-in. The Barracuda, anticipating a by-the-numbers Karl Stollery breakout, were caught up ice when the defender's soft rim was claimed in the corner by Brett Sutter, who then fed Brodzinski.
Earlier in the period, it was Nikita Jevpalovs who capitalized on an unforced Ontario miscue. A couple of them, actually. Jeff Schultz whiffed on a keep-in, springing Jevpalovs and Bryan Lerg for a two-on-one. Schultz's defensive partner Kevin Raine missed on the pokecheck, and after Jevpalovs's toedrag and top shelf snipe, the fist-pumping Latvian could be seen crowing, "You reach, I'll teach." Well, I'm sure he thought that at least.
How tight was this game? After two, even strength scoring chances were tied at seven apiece. Ontario held a slim 25-23 shots on goal edge.
The Reign, who paced the West because of their dominant puck possession, scoring chance control, and Bastien-caliber goaltending, had, for most of the night, met their match. Because the bottom-seed Barracuda and Dell had so capably traded chances and saves with their on-paper superior, it seemed unfair that they found themselves down to begin with entering the final frame.
For that, San Jose could thank the great-as-usual Budaj, who stopped 28 in all. And Kurtis MacDermid, who blasted a bazooka off a clean Nic Dowd faceoff victory midway into the second. Dowd won just 11-of-26 faceoffs for the game, but none bigger than this.
The in-state rivals meet again tonight at SAP Center in Game Two of a five-game series.