Sunday, February 27, 2005

"Gulls A Glutton for Salmon"

Gulls 4 - Salmon 1
by Deborah Brancheau
Toe fungus might have been easier to swallow than the pathetic loss the Gulls endured Tuesday night as they were beaten by the worst team in the ECHL. A team that hadn't even reached double-digits in the win column until then. A team that had only won 25 of its last 28 games. Whatever the case, the Gulls were in no mood to be force fed another rancid defeat as they turned the tables on the Victoria Salmon Kings handing them a 4-1 loss in front of 2,140 at the Bear Mountain Arena Wednesday night.
Though they may not have physically dominated the game, the scoreboard recorded a solid win, something the Gulls were in dire need of if they planned to leapfrog the Fresno Falcons for the coveted fourth-place standing in the Western Division and a playoff berth. Having lost four of their last five games, the Gulls had slipped further behind the Falcons who have won seven of their last 10, two of which were victories over San Diego. The win could possibly be the motivation the Gulls need to prepare for the crucial next five games.
Although the Gulls were outshot in the first period 14-11, they were able to capture the lead late in the frame with Ian Forbes' second goal of the season. Birbraer fed the puck to Forbes on the left wing. The acting captain then took advantage of an excellent screen by Sean O'Connor and rifled a shot past netminder Dan Blackburn for the 1-0 lead at 15:36.
Gulls goaltender Mathieu Chouinard was on top of his game in the first as he was credited with stopping all 14 shots including a breakaway attempt by Scott Turner. Sylvain Deschatelets even played savior with the puck by reaching in behind Chouinard to save a shot from crossing the goal line.
The stellar defensive performance held up in the second period as the Gulls faced an early Salmon Kings' power play. The offense wasn't far behind as Chris Lynch setup Nick Ganga for the shorthanded goal at 2:28. Chris Lynch pried the puck loose in the corner and dished it to Ganga, wide-open in the slot, who then slipped one between the pipes to give the Gulls a sound 2-0 lead.
San Diego continued its assault late in the second off a beautiful play initiated by Birbraer's excellent stick handling. Birbraer, in on the right wing, whipped through the Kings' defense all the way into the right wing corner before backhanding a pass to Sean O'Connor who finished off the play with his 16th goal of the season to give the Gulls a 3-0 lead at the 16:42 mark.
Victoria did have some fireworks left from Tuesday night's game and took a nibble out of the Gulls lead midway into the third period with Chris Corrinett's 14th goal of the season. Mike Josephson carried the puck out of the right wing corner where the puck rolled off his stick to Corrinett centered in front of the net. Corrinett then slipped it underneath Chouinard for the score at 9:04.
The Gulls, however, finished off the fish just 40 seconds later with Birbraer's third assist of the game. After Guillaume Fournier nudged the puck loose from Hegberg, he centered it to Birbraer. Birbraer then found a wide-open Deschatelets who one-timed the puck past Blackburn for the game-clinching 4-1 lead.
With the win, the Gulls, now 27-19-6, sit four points behind the fourth-place Fresno Falcons and six behind the third-place Bakersfield Condors. Only 20 games remain in the regular season giving new meaning to the term crunch time. While San Diego may have been able to split the two-game series with Victoria, it should never have come to that. They should have walked away from this series with four points instead of two. As a result, they have placed a tremendous amount of pressure on their shoulders to pull this season out of the trash.
Of the 20 remaining games, 14 are matchups within the Western Division and nine of those 14 are matchups with the three other teams vying for a playoff berth. Broken down, the Gulls have two more games with both the Condors and Falcons, all four of which will be played within the next week and a half, and five more games with the sixth-place Idaho Steelheads. That's not to say that the remaining six games are unimportant. Quite the contrary, the Gulls simply cannot let up. Right now there are too many teams ready to take that fourth-place playoff spot.

Notes:

San Diego is 21-2-1 when scoring four-plus goals in a game, but just 6-17-5 when scoring three or less
The Gulls are 6-8-2 in their last 16 games and have been outscored 44-36 in their last 15 games
They are 10-14-3 on the road and 17-5-3 at home
Grady Moore was placed on the injured list after sustaining a concussion Saturday against Bakersfield
He joins Mike Garrow (concussion), Evgueni Nourislamov (broken thumb) and Wes Rypien (knee sprain)
Andrew Canzanello remains with the American Hockey League's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks

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