Reign R3, G2 FINAL – Reign 3, Firebirds 5 – Sturm, Connauton

The Coachella Valley Firebirds (5-1) scored three times in the first period and held a lead the rest of the way to defeat the Ontario Reign (5-2) by a final score of 5-3 in Game 2 of the Pacific Division Finals on Friday night at Acrisure Arena. The Firebirds now hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-5 series.

Ontario outshot Coachella Valley 35-28 in the game and got goals from Kevin Connauton, Hayden Hodgson and captain TJ Tynan in a losing effort.


The Firebirds took control of the game early in the first and went on to score three times in the opening period while Ontario was called for four minor penalties.

John Hayden put Coachella Valley in front just 1:57 into the opening period, scoring on the team’s first shot of the game to give the home team a 1-0 advantage.

Cale Fleury extended the lead to 2-0 with wrist shot that beat Erik Portillo at 11:15 of the first before Jani Hyman added on and made it 3-0 with a power play goal at 14:21 while Charles Hudon was in the penalty box for roughing.

Ontario got on the board at 5:34 of the second period when Connauton was credited with a goal that the Firebirds inadvertently put into their own net. The own goal came when Max McCormick knocked a puck out of the air that was loose at the left circle and slid underneath goaltender Chris Driedger to make it a 3-1 game.

But Coachella Valley responded five minutes later at 10:47 on a goal by Shane Wright that came off a net-drive from Ryan Winterton. After an initial save by Portillo, the rebound went right to Wright, who made it 4-1 with his third point of the game.

Hodgson cut the Firebirds’ lead to 4-2 with a power play goal at 3:00 of the third which came on a deflection in front off a shot by Taylor Ward from the left circle. Joe Hicketts picked up a second assist on the tally, his fifth helper and sixth point of the postseason.

Unfortunately for Ontario, Hodgson was assessed a major penalty for interference just 15 seconds after scoring his goal that put the Reign down by a man for five minutes. They then came within a second of killing off the penalty, but a shot by Fleury found its way to the net just before it expired to give the Firebirds a 5-2 advantage at 8:16.

In a desperation attempt at a third period comeback, Tynan scored his second goal of the playoffs at 10:28 of the final frame, also on a deflection during a power play, off a shot by Charles Hudon. Brandt Clarke earned the second assist on the goal.

Both sides were credited with two power play goals in the game, with Ontario finishing 2-for-5, while Coachella Valley finished 2-for-7. Driedger earned his second win of the series with 32 saves, while Portillo suffered his second straight loss with 23 stops.

Marco Sturm
On Friday’s Game 2 loss
It was a tough start. Two goals against on three shots is not always a good thing. We didn’t play the game I think we can play over 60 minutes. We got carried away a little bit. We didn’t play detailed enough or structured enough, and that’s why we were falling behind all the time. We got some hope with a few goals but they came back pretty good with a quick goal again. It felt like we were chasing all night, but again, we have to be smarter and better.

On the third period push
It was better. We felt really good, even on that penalty. The PK did a pretty good job. Again, those are the moments they took advantage of, and we didn’t. I thought we could’ve gotten more out of it if we would have killed it, but we didn’t.

On relying on the veterans
Our best players have got to be the best players. In Game 1, our best players weren’t the best players, but today was a little bit better. They’ve got to take the lead and they’ve got to show the way, but they also have to be smart. Especially in the first period, it was our top guys who were not smart enough. We have to rely on them and that can’t happen.

On avoiding elimination on Sunday at home
I told the guys right after the game, this is what playoffs are all about. We see [comebacks] like this every time and every year, so why not us? We’re going to forget. We have to. We can’t change it now. We’re going to look forward to playing at home again. We’re going to see what we can do better and then go from there.

On how he can use his playing experience to help the players
I think that’s maybe why I was so relaxed today, because I’ve been in that situation a lot of times. That’s what I was telling them after the game, those are moments and that’s my experience having been down 3-0 and coming back. It’s obviously a big game for us at home. We have absolutely nothing to lose. We’re going to go out and we’re going to give everything we can. As soon as you get that one win, the game is on again and the pressure is on them again. It changes very quickly, but it’s got to start with us again, getting a rest and having a good start next game.

Kevin Connauton
On returning home for Game 3
We’re obviously happy to go home. That was a big game [tonight]. It was a must-win situation, but the series isn’t over. We can lead on that. We’re playing well at home. It’s frustrating but we’ve still got a chance here and a lot of belief in the locker room. Every time we kind of had the momentum tonight, they took it back from us. We kind of shot ourselves in the foot a few times. That’s not an easy pill to swallow. We’ve got a hungry group and we’re ready for next game.

On matchup up with Coachella Valley
We’ve seen these guys a bunch of times this year. We kind of know what to expect when we play them. It’s nothing we didn’t expect or didn’t pre-scout, it’s just up to us on the ice to get the job done. We’ve been close but close isn’t good enough right now. On Sunday we’ve got to be prepared and ready to go.

On moving on from Friday’s loss
Right now it stings. I think everyone is pretty upset about it but come tomorrow, we’ve got to focus on the next one. Forget about what happened last game. That’s the beautiful thing about playoffs, it’s a new game every time and we’ve got a chance to get back in this series.

On bouncing back in Game 3
I think the margin for errors is extremely small in the playoffs so you’ve got to be engaged on every shift you go out there. At the same time, whether you lose by a goal or you lose 7-0, the next game is a new game and a new opportunity, so I think that’s going to be our mindset come Sunday. It’s a clean slate. The series isn’t over. We’ve got a bit of a hill to climb but I don’t think we’re worried about it.

On finding ways to score goals against the Firebirds
We know we can do it. We’ve matched up well against them all year. Over the last two games we’ve had some really good moments as a team. There’s a few things we need to clean up and take advantage of some of the opportunities we have. Nothing else matters but winning on Sunday.

The series shifts to Ontario for Game 3 on Sunday night, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. inside Toyota Arena. The Reign will need a win in that game to keep its season alive and force Game 4, which would be played on Friday, May 24 if necessary.

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