The San Diego Gulls had a tough road trip to Des Moines. In their back-to-back with the Iowa Wild, they were outscored 9-3, despite returning some key talent such as Jacob Perrault. Outscored 6-1 in the first periods of those games, the Gulls needed a good start against the Colorado Eagles.
While leading scorer Brayden Tracey is still out with injury, the Gulls still got some much-needed additions to the lineup. Most Notably, goaltender Lukas Dostal returned to the crease. At the same time, skaters Greg Pateryn, Vinni Lettieri, and Danny O’Reagan also slotted back into the lineup after being sent down from the Anaheim Ducks earlier yesterday. However, Brayden Tracey was still too injured to suit up.
But the Eagles are red-hot. With just one loss in their last 10 games, they are looking to climb out of third place in the Pacific Division. Could the Gulls really snap a five-game losing streak against the hottest team in the American Hockey League (AHL)?
Gulls & Eagles Physical to Begin the Game
The first period, in addition to the start of the second, was headlined by physical play but massive scoring chances for each team. But, both Dostal and Justus Annunen made sure to keep the game tight until late in the first frame.
That’s when a missed clearing attempt by Brogan Rafferty saw Dylan Sikura pick up a rebound and put it past Dostal. The Gulls were all too familiar with this feeling, as they were down against the Eagles early just over a week ago and could not dig out of that hole.
But the Gulls showed resilience and responded quickly. On one of their less dangerous chances of the frame, Axel Andersson took a slap shot from the point that Annunen could not pick out through a plethora of bodies in his line of sight.
Real estate in front of the net was at a premium in the game, as there was battling and scrums throughout the night. As Bo Groulx said, “I think we competed with them pretty much the whole game… we had a lot of big hits that created us a lot of momentum.”
And it did, as the Gulls took the lead for the first time in several games. A Groulx finish on Alex Limoges’ set-up saw the team rally behind their top line, entering the final 20 minutes.
That goal, paired with some stellar goaltending from Dostal, saw the Gulls have a lead heading into the third. Head coach Joel Bouchard felt his reinvigorated lineup greatly improved the team. “We’ve been battling for a while now, and those guys came in with a great attitude, but (we) did not get the result we wanted.”
Poor Start to Third Frame
And, the Gulls saw their lead vanish in the third. After such a strong 40 minutes, the team was on their heels from the start of the period. A not-so-dangerous shot off the rush for Sikura tied the game with almost 15 minutes remaining.
Just over a minute later, the Gulls’ defense allowed a pass from one faceoff dot to the other, and Kiefer Sherwood slotted the puck past Dostal. As the coach pointed out, “They’re [Colorado] a good team, they are fast, and I think we backed off a little bit there.”
The third period saw just eight shots a side and one power play for the home team. But, Annunen saw little action behind a superb Eagle’s defense, and an empty-netter sealed Sikura’s hat trick and San Diego’s loss.
The coach repeated the team’s inconsistent lineup, and quality competition are grounds to not panic for him. He lamented that “I don’t like the result. I like the effort. I like the intention.”
On to Face the Roadrunners
As Groulx pointed out, the team mostly controlled the first 40 minutes. “Obviously, our first two periods were really good. At the start of the third period, we had a couple of breakdowns that cost us… we gotta be better on that.”
That quality 40 minutes will have to carry over into Friday. The team will battle in a back-to-back with the seventh-place Tuscon Roadrunners, who sit just one point in front of San Diego. Those two home games will be critical in the Gulls resurging to contention in their division.
With Dostal back, the Gulls will indeed have some better goaltending for that matchup. And Groulx now had three goals and an assist, heating up before a pivotal divisional matchup.
Do you think the Gulls can break their winning streak this weekend? Let me know in the comment section down below.
Josh is a young writer from the Bay Area, who now studies journalism at San Diego State University. In addition to covering the Sharks and Gulls for THW, Josh is a crossover scout at FCHockey and covers his school’s hockey team at TheDailyAztec. When not obsessing over hockey, Josh loves blasting music with friends, theatre, and playing with his dog. Follow Josh on Twitter for his latest takes on the Sharks, Gulls, and NHL Draft!