Peter Budaj recorded his third consecutive shutout and Michael Mersch scored the lone goal to help the Ontario Reign (27-10-3-1) edge past the San Jose Barracuda (19-15-5-3), 1-0, in front of a sellout crowd of 9,491 for Pink in the Rink on Friday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
“I just try to stay in the moment and not think too much ahead,” said Budaj about his shutout victory. “I know it’s cliché, but it’s very true. I just try to focus on the next puck and focus on the next shot and think everything’s going to take care of itself. I can’t thanks the guys in front of me enough. They all play really well.”
Mersch scored his team-leading 17th goal of the season at 13:52 of the first period on the power play with help from Nic Dowd and Kevin Gravel. The assist marks Dowd’s 25th tally of the season.
“I just went to the net and the rebound popped up to me at the right place at the right time and it worked out,” said Mersch. “They’re a good team and they’re well coached and you can tell by the way they play.”
The Reign tacked on eight shots in the middle stanza, but the score remained, 1-0, thanks to solid goaltending from netminder Aaron Dell. Ontario limited the Barracuda to just one chance.
Not to be outdone, San Jose broke open the third frame with momentum, peppering 16 shots throughout the period.
Their closest opportunity came when forward Ryan Carpenter fired two back-to-back shots with just three minutes left in regulation, but was denied by Budaj to preserve the victory.
Budaj tallied 22 saves for his AHL-leading eighth shutout of the season. Dell finished with 29 saves.
“We know that they didn’t show give us their best,” said Budaj, “No offense to their team, but I think we played really well and we were on them in first two periods.”