Ontario, CA – Justin Auger scored the game-winning goal as the Ontario Reign (7-2-0-0) edged the San Diego Gulls (4-5-0-0), 2-1, to win the best-of-seven Pacific Division Finals series, 4-1, and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Ontario will face the winner of the Grand Rapids vs. Lake Erie series.
“It was a great team effort tonight,” said Head Coach Mike Stothers after the game. “…To win in the playoffs, you have to have some talent, but you also have to have some luck. And part of that luck is remaining healthy … we’ll see how it goes from here.”
Both teams opened up the first period aggressive. Ontario was off to the better start, generating plenty of chances and traffic in front of Gulls netminder Matt Hackett. The Reign finished the first 20 minutes with eight shots on goal, while holding their SoCal rival to two chances.
After San Diego killed two Ontario power plays in the first period, the Reign took a 1-0 lead on an empty-netter from Joel Lowry. The forward scored unassisted after taking advantage of a miscue by Hackett as the puck bounced right in front of Lowry, who fired it right into an open net at 2:33. The goal marked Lowry’s second of the postseason.
Six minutes later, the Gulls came away with a rare rush on a quick passing play to Chris Wagner who fired a wide open shot from the top of the slot that beat Ontario netminder Peter Budaj.
However, a mere 25 seconds later, the Reign answered back with a goal of their own when Auger, off the rush, fired a wrist shot from the left circle assisted by Mike Amadio to regain the lead.
“Sometimes it’s your power plays. Sometimes it’s your penalty kills. You got to have both,” added Stothers. Ontario finished 0-for-3 on the power play while San Diego went 0-for-4.
In the final frame, Amadio came up with a close scoring opportunity on a nice feed from Adrian Kempe, but the clanked off the right goal post at 13:30. Ontario continued to create traffic in front of Hackett, but the goaltender turned away all six shots faced in the period. The Gulls nearly tied it up at 18:51 when Sean Backman accidentally tripped Shea Theodore as he tried to skate out with the puck. The Gulls then pulled Hackett for the extra attacker as Budaj’s best save came in the dying seconds of regulation. Budaj robbed Mueller on a rebound chance with 10.3 seconds remaining, followed by major shot blocks by Nic Dowd and Michael Mersch to seal the victory.
Budaj made 15 saves while Hackett took the loss with 24.
“We took advantage of our opportunities, commented Auger. “We just played well and showed up most games and did what we had to do to win.”
Western Conference Finals Schedule
Game 1 – Sat., May 21 – at Ontario, 8 PT Buy Tickets
Game 2 – Sun., May 22 –at Ontario, 7 PT Buy Tickets
*Game 6 – Tue., May 31 – at Ontario, 7 PT
*Game 7 – Wed., June 1 – at Ontario, 7 PT
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