HAMILTON - Early leads are a rarity for the Hamilton Bulldogs. That may explain their inability to protect the one they gained on Saturday.
The San Antonio Rampage scored five consecutive goals to overturn a two-goal deficit and defeat Bulldogs 5-2 in American Hockey League action.
"It seems like whatever we do right now, things aren't going our way," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "We got a 2-0 lead and had another power play. But instead, we get scored on right at the end.
"If we made it 3-0, we would have been in better shape. But it was 2-2 after two, and in a one-period game we came up short."
Drew Shore scored the winner and Casey Wellman, Alex Petrovic, Greg Rallo and Jared Gomes added goals for the Rampage (11-17-3), who snapped a six-game losing streak with the win.
Dov Grumet-Morris stopped 31 of 33 shots.
Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont had goals for the Bulldogs (10-14-3), who saw their losing streak extend to four games. Cedrick Desjardins stopped 39 shots in a losing effort.
Once a strength of Hamilton's, the penalty kill has recently become a source of trouble for the Bulldogs.
"It's unfortunate, because at the start of the year it was our penalty kill that kept us in games," said Blunden. "In the last two games, it hasn't been good enough.
"(San Antonio) scored two power-play goals tonight and that was the difference."
Hamilton's 29th-ranked power-play unit also struggled, going 0 for 4 with the man advantage. The Bulldogs have converted at a rate of only 9.8 per cent this season, scoring on 11 of 112 power-play opportunities.
Blunden believed that the power play's impotence is rooted in the Bulldogs' decision-making.
"I think sometimes we're just over-shooting," explained the winger. "I know that we want to get more shots, but I think that sometimes we're shooting when there's no traffic or we can make a better pass.
"It's going to come. We're a young team and a lot of these guys are first-year pros. They're just learning how to run a power play and it's only going to get better as the year moves along."
Dumont opened the scoring only 1:22 into the first period, wrong-footing the screened San Antonio goaltender Grumet-Morris with a slow wristshot from the top of the circle that benefited from a slight deflection.
The lead was nearly doubled seven minutes into the period, when Louis Leblanc deftly stick-handled past two Rampage defenders before sliding the puck just wide of Grumet-Morris' far post.
San Antonio had the better of the action in the first, despite trailing, and forced 16 saves from an in-form Desjardins.
The Bulldogs led after the opening period for only the fifth time in 27 games this season.
That lead swelled 5:34 into the second, when Joonas Nattinen stole the puck behind the San Antonio net and found Blunden with a pass in the low slot. The winger did the rest, firing a quick wristshot over the near shoulder of Grumet-Morris.
San Antonio cut its deficit in half through a fortunate bounce at 8:16 of the second.
Gomes set up behind the red line and slid an attempted pass into the slot that bounced off the skate of Hamilton defenceman Cody Wild and past the unsuspecting Desjardins.
A shot that hit the crossbar above Desjardins was reviewed by officials with 3:45 remaining in the second, but was ruled no-goal after a lengthy deliberation.
San Antonio would find that game-tying goal minutes later, after a Brendon Nash cross-check sent the Rampage to the power play.
The visitors capitalized early on the ensuing man advantage, as Wellman's cross-ice pass hit Rallo in stride and the centre beat Desjardins with a one-time shot from the top of the circle.
San Antonio completed the comeback at 2:33 of the third, once again making the most of a power-play opportunity.
A goaltender interference penalty assessed to Blunden gave the Rampage their fifth power play of the game at 1:11 of the third. Jon Sim found linemate Shore in the high slot with a cross-ice pass and the centre fired a heavy wristshot past Desjardins.
Blunden rued the referee's decisions which proved costly for the Bulldogs.
"To be honest, I thought refereeing was a little bit questionable tonight," said Blunden. "A few of those calls were iffy, but sometimes that's how it goes."
The visitors added an insurance goal at 16:23 of the third, when Petrovic's routine wristshot from the point eluded Desjardins.
Wellman scored on an empty net with 1:01 remaining.