The Ontario Reign (39-15-4-1) defeated the Stockton Heat (27-27-2-2), 4-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 9,491 at Citizens Business Bank Arena on Friday night.
With the victory, the Reign are now just one point away from clinching a berth in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs.
“Nothing changes,” said Head Coach Mike Stothers after the game. “We came in tonight with 10 games left. That’s 10 victories. I expect us to win every game and that’s not going to change.”
It was a special teams battle from start to finish as Ontario went a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill in the first period alone.
The Reign found the scoreboard first on their second power play of the night at 13:26. With Oliver Kylington in the box for slashing, Jonny Brodzinski chipped home a rebound from forward Michael Mersch. The Heat responded just over a minute later when Turner Elson stole the puck in the middle of the Reign zone and beat Reign netminder Peter Budaj with the unassisted marker at 14:44.
“It’s nice to finally get the power play going,” said Brodzinski. “It’s crazy how things can change when you get that first goal or big power play goal.”
The Reign went up 2-1 at 1:27 of the middle frame when Justin Auger fired one past Heat goaltender Kevin Poulin just moments after time expired on the power play. The unassisted goal marks the right winger’s 16th of the season. At 11:55, forward Sean Backman launched in a one-timer off a feed from forward Kris Newbury to put Ontario up 3-1.
The Heat turned it up in the third period, scoring at 1:08 when defenseman Brett Kulak fired a shot past Budaj with help from forwards Hunter Shinkaruk and Morgan Klimchuk.
Not to be outdone, Ontario tacked on an insurance goal at 8:32 as Jeff Schultz rocketed a shot from the blue line while on the power play.
“We’re treating every game as a playoff game,” said Brodzinski. “It’s something that we look forward to the entire year. It’s going to be nice to have that star next to our name.”
Budaj came away with his AHL-leading 37th win of the season with 26 saves. Poulin took the loss, with 24 stops on 28 attempts.