Citizens Business Bank Arena has not been kind to the San Jose Barracuda: They've yet to notch a victory in Ontario this season (0-4-2-0). Perhaps that's why John McCarthy emphasized to the Gackle Report earlier, "We can’t just sit back and let [the Ontario Reign] play their game. We need a good start and we need to show them we’re going to play the game that we play."
Can Mr. McCarthy get a mulligan?
After 20, the Barracuda were down 14-4 shots, 7-2 even strength chances, and 1-0 on the scoreboard. Their saving grace, pun very much intended, was Aaron Dell, who had stopped 69 of 73 in the series-opening Silicon Valley split.
It had all started innocently enough for the visitors, as both squads struggled to find daylight. About 10 minutes in, they had accounted for just one ES chance apiece.
Of course, the Reign had cashed in on their lone opportunity, as Adrian Kempe tipped home a Michael Mersch shot-pass. Mersch had made some space for himself above the right circle with a smart spinorama away from Joakim Ryan, then Gabryel Boudreau failed to tie up Kempe's stick in front.
"He stepped up his game last year for us," noted Coach Mike Stothers, who has been sometimes very critical of the 19-year-old's play this season. "Maybe he’s one of those playoff guys." Kempe, of course, rang up eight goals during last spring's Calder Cup-winning run.
Minutes later, Ontario began to pour it on, as Nic Dowd pounced on Jeremy Morin, who was breaking out from behind the net. Dowd feathered a perfect pass to Brett Sutter in the slot, and Sutter fired, raising his arms in triumph. But the puck, which had squirted through Dell, hadn't yet crossed the line. Dowd, Sutter, and Sean Backman converged, and Mirco Mueller closed his hand over the loose puck, gifting the Reign's top pivot with a penalty shot.
Dowd managed to get Dell to open up, but his nemesis was able to get the top left pad on the five-hole bid.
Then, with about a minute left in the period, Justin Auger, on the rush, flung a cross-ice toss to unmarked trailer Vincent LoVerde at the right dot, but you know who went post to post to keep his boys close.
Dell had no help though. Shortly into the middle frame, Trevor Parkes boarded Backman, causing an injury and giving the hosts a five-minute major power play. They swiftly took advantage, as Derek Forbort connected with Jonny Brodzinski in the slot for a shot-tip, which rebounded onto Dowd's stick for a bang-bang goal.
To add insult to injury, Backman returned, but Parkes wouldn't, as he was tossed. Indeed, the burly winger should've let up:
After the Ontario major, San Jose was down 23-4 shots. Twenty-three to four.
And the Reign just kept rolling. In rare moments when they faltered, team MVP Peter Budaj was there to erase any mistake, such as McCarthy's left dot wrister off a two-on-one with Nikita Jevpalovs. Also equal to the task was the penalty kill, which allowed a sole Barracuda set-up and zero shots during a late second period power play, which saw Brodzinski sent off for elbowing.
After two, Ontario was up 30-8 shots and 12-5 ES chances. Dowd noticed the ample room, "Maybe guys just created a little bit more space for themselves by pushing pucks and using our speed, as opposed to slowing down and possibly letting their guys get above and maybe trap us in the neutral zone." The final frame would be no different.
SJ has one shot six minutes into 3rd, down two, ONT looks very much in control— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) April 29, 2016
The Reign kept rushing, as Backman threaded a pass through Julius Bergman to the slot, where Kris Newbury outhustled Karl Stollery for a tip that Dell deflected away.
Then, with about eight minutes to go, Patrick McNally made a half-hearted attempt to stand up to Newbury in the neutral zone, which allowed the veteran pivot to spring Kempe and Brodzinski for a clear-cut two-on-one from center ice on. The Swede tagged a wrister over Dell's shoulder for his second of the night.
After a near-heroic 36 saves, Dell was pulled, perhaps out of mercy. Nobody would've blamed him if, as he skated by his teammates, he blurted, "Screw you guys, I'm going home."
A couple minutes later, Nikolay Goldobin spoiled the shutout with a point shot wrister which deflected off LoVerde past Budaj. But I don't think anyone in the arena, including the Barracuda themselves, believed they were coming back.
After all, you don't deserve to win when your "best pressure of the game," to quote Ontario play-by-play Joseph Zakrzewski, comes with about a minute left, goalie pulled.
"Everybody was really good for us tonight," observed Stothers.
San Jose and Ontario square off again tonight, as the Cuda strive to stave off elimination. The Reign will want to finish this fast, as the injuries up the middle are mounting: Ryan Horvat and Andrew Crescenzi sat out tonight with undisclosed injuries, and I didn't see Sutter at all in the third.
Center Michael Amadio, who made his AHL debut fresh off a 50-goal OHL campaign, may be asked to do more than originally intended. Stothers offered cautious praise, "First one was good, we’ll see how the second one is."
Linemate Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who tied with Backman for team-lead in shots with five, was impressed, "I thought [Amadio] held onto the puck really well. He did a good job supporting in the D-zone. He was strong on pucks. It was pretty seamless."