Different league, same rivalry.
Just add in the playoff-feel that buzzed throughout Citizens Business Bank Arena Thursday night in the Reign’s 5-3 win over the Anaheim Ducks’ affiliate San Diego Gulls in Game 1 of the AHL’s Pacific Division Final.
The Reign came out of the gates flying.
In an opening period where they outshot San Diego 12-4, including two prime scoring opportunities from highly-touted prospect Adrian Kempe in the game’s first shifts, Ontario built a two-goal lead.
“I thought we had a really good start, I think it all starts with that,” said Michael Mersch. “And then just keep going, you know, we had all four lines going tonight, big guys stepped up.”
Mersch, who played 17 games for the Kings this season, got Ontario on the board when he batted home a rebound out of mid-air from a Jeff Schultz point shot to give the Reign a 1-0 lead 10:26 minutes in.
It was the power forward’s first goal and fourth point of the playoffs.
Just over three minutes later, Vincent LoVerde gave the Reign a 2-0 lead when he roofed a shot on the power play past San Diego’s Matt Hackett after pinching in from the point and receiving a stellar pass from Nic Dowd.
The Gulls struck for a pair of goals in a 1:26 minute span in the opening half of the second period to tie the game 2-2.
With just over five minutes left in the second, Michael Amadio forced a Gulls turnover deep in San Diego’s zone, recovered the puck and dished a pass to Joel Lowry in the slot. Lowry beat Hackett with a shot high to the glove side to give Ontario a 3-2 lead.
For Lowry, it was the first professional playoff goal of his career.
Working with a slim one-goal margin in the third, Michael Mersch scored his second of the night to up the Reign’s lead to two, providing Ontario with a little insurance to work with as the game wound down.
Mersch tipped home a Kevin Raine shot to put Ontario up 5-3 with 10:49 left in regulation.
San Diego inched back to within a goal with 2:23 to play, but Jeff Schultz iced the game with an empty-net marker with 33 seconds remaining, shortly after Mersch missed an opportunity to register a hat-trick.
Mersch finished the night with a team-high three points (2G, 1A), he recorded the secondary assist on Vincent LoVerde’s first period power play goal.
Peter Budaj stopped 16 of the 19 shots he faced to pick up his fourth playoff win of the season.
The series shifts to San Diego’s Valley View Casino Center for Game 2 Saturday night, where the Reign are scheduled to take on the Gulls just after 7:00 PM PST.