Manor Reign Recap: RD3, GM2 – Ontario Struggles Again; Now Need to Sweep Next Three

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All eyes were on an important Game 2 on the road for the Ontario Reign Friday night in Coachella Valley.

After dropping Game 1 earlier in the week, the Reign were looking to steal a win on the road before heading back for a pair of games at Toyota Arena in the best-of-five series.

From the drop of the puck, there was a tinge of urgency and discomfort in the hesitant play of Ontario for the first time in the postseason.

The Firebirds took advantage just two minutes into the game to grab the 1-0 lead and subsequently managed the game on their terms the rest of the way. The home team scored three unanswered goals by first intermission and blanked the Reign while outshooting them 12-7 to get the game started.

From there, it was a hole Ontario could not find its way out of.

In the middle frame, a fortunate own-goal by the Firebirds bred a glimmer of hope for the Reign until the Firebirds answered back with a good goal of their own.

When the third began with a 4-1 Coachella Valley lead, Ontario gave themselves a chance by scoring a power play goal just minutes into the period. Hayden Hodgson (1) was the unlikely PP hero with a front-net tip to beat veteran goaltender Chris Driedger.

After making it a 4-2 game, the Reign had most of the period to mount a comeback; however, in a play just 15 seconds after scoring the goal, Hodgson made an unnecessarily late (and heavy) hit on a Firebird player behind the play. The bruising bottom-six player was assessed a major and game misconduct for interference and gave the home team a five-minute major power play.

Coachella Valley scored just seconds left in that extended PP to extend their lead by three goals. And that seemed to be the final straw.

Ontario answered back with a power play goal of their own – a tip from T.J. Tynan (2) – and outshot their opponent 18-8 in the final period. It wasn’t enough, as they’d concede Game 2 with a final score of 5-3.

It was a Jekyll and Hyde contest for the Reign, who entered the series undefeated.

Starting goaltender Erik Portillo allowed five goals on 28 shots – an unusual result for a youngster that only gave up those many goals four times in 39 regular season games. Early in the first period, the Firebirds put up two goals in just three shots at that point of the game.

In many, if not most, of the goals against, the patented Reign defense was absent and showed holes, leaving Portillo alone to make saves against high-danger chances. Coach Marco Sturm didn’t want to get into details in his media availability postgame as he did reference the same lack of detail from his team.

Sturm also noticed several ‘passengers’ in his lineup, which is another surprise from a team who’s relied on rolling four lines and getting production from each line throughout the playoffs.

One last surprise was Ontario’s failure to score at even-strength, another advantage they usually have over opponents. Without counting the lucky bounce when a Firebird unintentionally scored on his own net, Ontario was unable to properly score once 5-on-5 against Coachella Valley. Their other two goals were both power play tallies.

The Reign look ahead to Game 3 Sunday evening to extend the series. Should they win, they’ll have the week to practice and rest for Game 4 at home on Friday.

Power Play Success: One positive note emerged with the success of the PP unit. After struggling in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs, the power play unit is now 3-for-8 with a 37.5% success rate, higher even than Ontario’s regular season rate. So far in the series, it’s allowed them to remain in games they’ve been chasing.

Broken Streaks: In the loss, several player streaks were broken. Andre Lee and Samuel Fagemo both had goal-streaks end at three and two, respectively. Akil Thomas snapped his points streak at three games as well.

A Time for Panic?: The Ontario bench boss is a veteran with over 1,000 games played in the NHL and DEL leagues, and after the game, expressed a relative calm among his group. Sturm leaned on his own playoff experiences as a player to help focus on the next game ahead. By grabbing a pair of big wins at home, he expects the momentum to shift in his team’s favor and press the Firebirds to a final Game 5 in the desert.

Who’s on First,…?: After dropping two games in a row, will Sturm inject a bit of offense to his group and add Francesco Pinelli to the mix? The rookie forward was finding his groove at the end of the regular season, scoring in six of the final nine games. He also took to the ice for warm ups in Coachella Valley before Game 2 before ultimately being scratched. Pinelli is still looking to get into his first career AHL postseason game.

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