There’s another level of heat that’s a bit old hat now between West Coast AHL rivals Ontario and San Diego.
The Reign know it well and have felt it recently from the San Diego faithful.
“Those people are intense,” Reign head coach Mike Stothers said. “We pulled up the other day and they were giving us the one-finger salute. Sitting in their lawn chairs, tailgating. So that’s what you get coming in.”
Once inside it’s even more hostile as the Valley View Casino Center, barn of the Western Conference’s biggest crowds for a second straight season, gets bodies pumping onto the ice.
For a second consecutive season the Kings and Ducks affiliates will meet in the Calder Cup Playoffs â?? this time in the opening series. The basic need-to-know is that this is first round best-of-5 (it’s seven games the rest of the way) where victories early on become all the more crucial to gather. Games 1 and 2 are back-to-back on Friday in San Diego and then Saturday in Ontario.
RELATED: Reign-Gulls Series by the Numbers
“We’ve said it to our team before, when we play Ontario it’s a lot like playing against yourself,” Gulls head coach Dallas Eakins said on this week’s Gulls In Flight podcast, later adding, “I expect each and every one of these games to be extremely close.”
Head-to-head in the regular season both teams finished a rare 6-4-1-1 against the other. The Reign have the playoff edge after bouncing the Gulls in the second round four games to one a season ago. This time around there’s very little room for advantages but one is home ice, which is on the side of the second-seeded Gulls in the 1-1-1-1-1 format. Former Reign and now Gulls forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas called the San Diego crowd “invaluable.” The Reign believe they’re up for the atmosphere.
“Any time, especially in a playoff series, most rinks are going to be packed pretty good so it’s going to be a bit of a hostile environment. We know that,” said forward Joel Lowry. “We played there before last year in the playoffs. We know what to expect and I think we’re ready for it.”
There’s so much more to this series, so let’s get to it. Here are the keys to the series â?¦
A WHO’S WHO OF WHO’S IN AND WHO’S HEALTHY
It’s an odd circumstance: The Reign may have their strongest and healthiest lineup ready to go for Game 1, a collective group where one key player or another has been amiss nearly all season.
Reinforcements are back from Los Angeles in speedy Adrian Kempe, gunslinger Jonny Brodzinski and puck-moving D-man Paul LaDue. For Ontario and the organization as a whole, their I.E. return is the lone silver lining of the Kings failing to make the playoffs.
“Any time you get the some players like the three we just got back it’s a huge boost and we’ll make sure to try to take full advantage of it,” goalie Jack Campbell said.
For the Gulls though a majority of their top players are holding roster spots on the Ducks, who just finished a first-round sweep of the Flames in the Stanley Cup …
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