The slumping San Diego Gulls will get another chance Friday to assure themselves of their third berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs in their three seasons in the American Hockey League.
The Gulls magic number remained at one following Wednesday’s 4-0 loss to the Tucson Roadrunners at Valley View Casino Center, their fourth loss in five games and fifth in their last seven.
The Gulls will be assured of a playoff berth with at least one standings point in their final two games, or if both the San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat don’t win both of their final two games.
The Gulls will conclude the regular season with games in Tucson Friday and Saturday.
The loss dropped the Gulls (36-26-3-1) into fourth in the Pacific Division.
The Gulls league-leading power play was scoreless in four opportunities and Adin Hill (18-11-4-0) stopped all 36 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season and second in two starts.
“It’s disappointing because I actually thought we played a pretty good game but we didn’t score when we needed to and we had some glorious chances,” Gulls coach Dallas Eakins said. “Tucson’s goalie was excellent, probably the best I have ever seen him play.
“Our power play is No. 1 in the league but it let us down tonight and it sucked the life out of our game at some points so that is something we need to focus on going into Tucson for the final two games.”
The Gulls were outshot, 39-36, including a 19-7 disadvantage in the third period, when the Roadrunners took the first 15 shots.
An apparent power-play goal by Gulls rookie center Kiefer Sherwood was nullified when a referee ruled time had expired in the first period, a ruling upheld by video review.
Tucson right wing Conor Garland opened the scoring eight minutes, three seconds into the second period when he put a shot past Reto Berra for his eighth goal of the season.
The Roadrunners increased their lead to 2-0 at 17:07 of the second period when Lawson Crouse put a wrist shot past Berra for his 13th goal of the season.
Defenseman Trevor Murphy’s snap shot from outside left faceoff circle with 9:47 left in the third period gave Tucson (40-20-5-1) a 3-0 lead.
Eakins pulled Berra for a sixth attacker with 4:12 remaining after Roadrunners center Dylan Strom was called for slashing. However, Crouse scored a short-handed empty-net goal with 3:57 to play.
Berra (16-11-2-0) made 35 saves in his first appearance with the Gulls since March 31. He was recalled by the Gulls NHL parent team, the Anaheim Ducks, April 3, after John Gibson suffered an upper-body injury in an April 1 game. Berra did not play with the Ducks during his most recent stint with them.
The Ducks announced earlier Wednesday they had reassigned Berra to the Gulls.
The Gulls killed all four of Tucson’s power-play opportunities.
The Roadrunners, the Arizona Coyotes NHL affiliate, were officially assured of the Pacific Division championship at 9:24 p.m. when the Ontario Reign’s 6-3 loss in Stockton was completed, four minutes before the Gulls- Tucson game ended.
The announced crowd of 9,306 for their final regular-season home game increased the Gulls attendance to 316,358 for the season, the most in their three seasons in the AHL, surpassing the previous high of 301,776 fans for the 2016-17 season.
The Gulls average attendance of 9,305 leads the AHL.
—City News Service