Forget Ocean’s Eleven. The Gulls pulled off an amazing caper Sunday evening at the Sports Arena, scoring three goals in the final three minutes to snatch victory away from the defending Kelly Cup champion Idaho Steelheads with a 4-2 triumph to win the three-game weekend set.
With their offense lapsing and time winding down, it seemed like the Gulls (8-6-2) were headed for another letdown. However, San Diego found its goal-scoring weapons as Max Birbraer tied things up with about two minutes to play and Sean OEConnor hit the game-winner with 34 seconds left to rob the Steelheads (11-7-1) of a win that would have broken a second-place tie with the Alaska Aces. Chris Lynch hit an empty-net goal 20 seconds later to seal the deal for the San Diego. Gulls goaltender Trevor Koenig was a key accomplice, making 18 stops.
For the third-straight night, the Gulls made a mockery of the Steelheads shots-against average in the first period, outshooting their opponents 9-4. Unfortunately, Idaho goaltending was just as steady; this time it was former Gull Colin Zulianello who was unbeatable between the pipes, stopping all of San Diego’s attempts in the period and 26 in the contest.
The Steelheads, however, opened the scoring for the first time in the three-game set with Lance Galbraith’s goal at 7:12 in first frame. Koenig made the initial save on Frank LukesEshot, but the rebound bounced into the left-wing circle, where Galbraith was in perfect position to slide it behind the out-of-position goaltender for his third goal of the season.
San Diego had its share of chances to level things in the second, but Zulianello continued to stymie the GullsEattack, turning away 10 in the frame, including a breakaway by Andrew Canzanello with less than two minutes left. Idaho’s penalty-killing unit, ranked first in the ECHL, didn’t cut the Gulls any breaks either, shutting down San Diego’s three power plays in the period.
Galbraith struck again to pad Idaho’s lead at 2-0 early in the third by simply being at the right place at the right time. David Cornacchia picked up the puck after Clark made a bad clear, and fired a shot from the left-wing circle that was headed wide until it took a detour off Galbraith’s skate and into the net.
The Gulls took a more textbook approach in cutting the Idaho deficit back to one at 2:57. Max Birbraer skated down the left-wing, and, with only Idaho defender Jeremy Mymylok between them, fed the puck to Darren Clark near the left post, who one-timed it past Zulianello for his sixth goal of the year.
As time ran off the clock, Birbraer set the comeback in motion by knotting things up at 17:50 with his fourth of the season and his third in three games. While Idaho had their mind set on overtime, it was O’Connor who pulled the wool over their eyes, striking the second and most devastating blow with his third goal of the year at 19:26. The Steelheads rallied to mastermind an attack of their own by pulling Zulianello, but their plans were thwarted when Lynch sent the puck into the empty net for his second goal of the year.
Notes: The Gulls are now 7-1-1 at home this season and 1-5-1 on the road... In their eight wins, San Diego has outscored its opponents 41-17... The Gulls have been outscored 26-9 in their eight losses (which includes an overtime and shootout loss)... The Blue and Orange have killed 23 of their last 24 penalties, dating back to Nov. 17... Birbraer and O’Connor notched three goals each in the series... With three points on Sunday (2g, 1a), Darren Clark extends his team-leading point total to 16... San Diego was 9-5-2 through 16 games last season... Sean Murphy remains on the injured list with a fractured knuckle...