SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Just 6:29 into the first overtime, Michael Amadio beat Matt Hackett to give the Ontario Reign a 4-3 victory and commanding 3-1 series lead.
The action shifts back to Ontario tomorrow night, as the San Diego Gulls look to stave off elimination.
"It was a lucky bounce," admitted Amadio. Indeed it was, as a Kevin Gravel bid from the top of the circles went wide and rebounded off the boards to the right dot, where the puck slowed for the winning drive.
Because of sudden death, the Gulls didn't have a chance to retort. If they had? Can you say dueling pianos?
About midway into the third period, tied one apiece, Kyle MacKinnon deflected a Brandon Montour point shot past Peter Budaj, revving up a home crowd of 9,078 . But Adrian Kempe responded with back-to-back goals in under two minutes to put the Reign ahead.
On his first strike, Kempe raced past Jaycob Megna, who had made an ill-advised pinch on the San Diego blueline, to create a two-on-one with Michael Mersch. "It wasn't the hardest shot," noted the young winger of his right dot wrister. He followed that up with a putback of a Nic Dowd stuff, as he appeared almost magically between an inattentive Megna and Chris Wagner in front.
But before Ontario could settle in with this 3-2 lead, Andrew Welinski threaded an unusually large Reign neutral zone gap, and Chris Mueller took Dowd one on one, cutting at the left dot for a wrister that snuck between the wickets.
In this see-saw stretch, which saw four goals potted in just 3:04, the visitors enjoyed just 10 seconds with the lead. That was their only time ahead for the entire contest.
They probably deserved better, however, especially in the second period, as the Reign pounded the Gulls 9-3 even strength chances. But it was San Diego who flew ahead in that frame with a Shea Theodore power play blast after a Kris Newbury double-minor high-sticking.
But just three minutes into the final frame, before the home team could set their well-documented 1-3-1 neutral zone trap, Welinski gambled for an interception too high in his zone, freeing Dowd for a 2-on-1 with Mersch, which Ontario's top pivot lit through Hackett....from the right dot.
Indeed, it was the right way to celebrate Amadio's 20th birthday. "Probably the best [birthday] so far," beamed the recent call-up. "I don't think ever," he added, when asked if he had ever scored on his birthday before.
The impressive rookie doesn't appear to be leaving the line-up anytime soon. Coach Mike Stothers observed, "Kind of mirrored what Kempe did last year." The then 18-year-old winger rang up eight goals in 17 games as the Manchester Monarchs won last year's Calder Cup. "[Amadio] kind of grabs you in a quiet way...you just the see the hockey sense, playmaking ability he has."
The Reign continued their dominance with three-plus days rest: They went 15-3-1-1 in the regular season and have won all four playoff contests in such conditions. We'll see how refreshed they are tomorrow night.