Ontario, CA – The Ontario Reign (7-3-0-0) scored two goals in the final period, but it was not enough as they fell, 4-3, to the Lake Erie Monsters (8-2-0-0) in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals Saturday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena. Forward Sean Backman scored his first goal of the postseason and added an assist. The Reign trail the best-of-seven series, 1-0.
“The way we battled back in the third after the second period that we had just shows the character of this team, said Backman after the game. “It’s Game 1. We’re long from gone.”
Backman got the goal on the power play, burying a shot from the left wing circle at 4:23 of the second period. Defenseman Kevin Gravel and forward Nic Dowd drew the assists on the Backman marker. Less than three minutes later, Lake Erie evened up the game when forward Lukas Sedlak snapped the puck over netminder Peter Budaj’s shoulder.
The Monsters created speed and controlled the pace of the middle frame, generating plenty of traffic around Budaj. While on the power play, Lake Erie fired multiple shots before forward Josh Anderson found the back of the net at 8:23. The Monsters scored again at 9:46 when forward Ryan Craig rebounded a shot past Budaj for a 3-1 lead. Speed served as the difference maker for the Monsters as they outshot Ontario 14-7 in the second stanza.
“We’ve got to be relentless on them. We saw signs of it in the first and third but we’re a tough team to play with. We just need to minimize our mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes, added Backman.”
Looking to pick up momentum, Ontario gained speed and reduced the deficit when Dowd scored on a wrister at 1:32 of the third period. Defenseman Derek Forbort and forward Mike Amadio grabbed the assists. The Reign tied things up thanks to forward Joel Lowry, who scored with a quick turnaround slapshot at 8:16. Lake Erie, however, gets a lucky bounce and scores just 19 seconds later to regain the lead, 4-3. Ontario made a solid push while sustaining pressure on goaltender Anton Forsberg. The Reign’s closest opportunity came with less than a minute remaining as Budaj was pulled for the extra attacker. Amadio set up forward Adrian Kempe from the right circle, and Kempe fired the puck, but it bounced off the post. Forsberg came away with the win, with 27 saves on 30 shots.
“We’re anxious to play and we’re anxious to win and show them what we got,” said Head Coach Mike Stothers. “I think they did a good job on us and I thought we did a pretty good job on them. We just need to execute better.”
“We had a lull. It cost us,” continued Stothers. “ … Ideally, we’d like to win every game we play. But you know what, there’s four good teams, so nothing’s going to be easy. Nothing worth winning is easy.”
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