SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- 11:55 into the first overtime, on the Ontario Reign's 44th shot, Justin Auger finally toppled the Matt Hackett Wall, as the visitors clipped the San Diego Gulls 2-1.
The Reign clawed ahead 2-0 in this best-of-7, and the bitter, tired rivals circle each other once again tomorrow night at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
On Auger's strike, Adrian Kempe actually was outdrawn by Kyle MacKinnon, but the puck, which was going back, rebounded off the official's skate to Kevin Gravel, who flung it from the point. "Puck kind of just bounced on my stick, took a whack at it," said the winger. He admitted triumphantly, "I was actually surprised. I didn't know it went in until everybody else started celebrating."
It was a massive relief for a squad which had pelted Hackett with rubber. But as they say, the way to beat a hot goalie is to take away his eyes, which Kris Newbury did with an early third, game-tying power play tip off a Vincent LoVerde blast.
The Gulls' netminder, who made everybody forget Anton Khudobin's absence for a night, held the line as best he could, but his defense was run ragged by Ontario's overall 14-7 scoring chances domination at evens.
It had all kicked off with a bang for the hosts, who were supported by a raucous 7,621. Just three minutes into the contest, Nick Ritchie beat Kempe to the front, and Chris Mueller found him from behind the net for a one-timed firecracker.
But Ontario cracked down for the rest of the night, mostly keeping the San Diego attack off to the perimeter. 14 of the home team's 27 shots were recorded by their defensemen. "All season long, we've tried to limit the number of opportunities the opposition had," noted Head Coach Mike Stothers. And it was once again a job well done by the AHL's stingiest squad.
This was also the first game that the Gulls have lost leading after two this year. They were 34-0-0-0 before Auger's tally.