Imperfect 10: Royals squander leads in regulation, escape with SO win to set franchise mark

The Reading Royals, now chugging along in their 12th season in the ECHL, had a chance on Wednesday to accomplish something never before done — a double-digit winning streak.

Carrying a nine-game run into a matchup with the South Carolina Stingrays at Sovereign Center, it took 65 minutes of regulation plus a shootout, but a new franchise record of 10 straight wins was achieved as the Royals claimed a 5-4 decision.

Yannick Tifu’s nifty, shifty score on Adam Morrison to complete the third breakaway round put the hosts ahead, then Philipp Grubauer shut the door on Daniel Koger and Chris Langkow on successive chances to end the contest.

“I certainly remember losing 10, 20 and 30 in a row,” deadpanned Royals head coach Larry Courville. “I don’t ever remember winning 10 straight. But when you win 10 in a row, you have to accept that every game isn’t going to be great. At least we learned from those mistakes and got the win.”

The original mark of nine wins in a row was set in November and December of 2004, the franchise’s fourth season in Berks County and then the affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.

Grubauer, who was named the top defensive player in the ECHL last week, had a shaky second period in allowing three goals, but finished with 27 saves plus three big ones in the shootout.

Morrison wound up with 24 saves, but came up one stop short.

Evan Barlow tallied twice, with Kirk MacDonald and Denny Urban scoring once each for the Royals (11-5-1), who look to continue this recent run of success with back-to-back home games on Friday and Saturday against Greenville and Evansville. Reading escaped despite blowing leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2.

Langkow picked up a goal and one assist, with Shawn Weller, Hunter Bishop and Tommy Cross tallying once each for the Stingrays (7-12-1), who have dropped four of their last five and face two straight games in Elmira this weekend.

The hosts appeared to have put a stranglehold on the game early in the second period. Thanks to diligent work behind Morrison’s cage by Barry Almeida, the diminutive winger managed to cut off a clearing attempt and dish back towards the blue line. That’s where Urban settled the puck an whipped a low slapper home at the 7:08 mark for a 3-0 advantage.

But the visitors slithered back with two in a row, beginning with Langkow’s shot from in front only 33 seconds later, and by Weller off a redirection from Matthew Pistilli with 2:27 remaining in the middle stanza.

On the very next shift, a purposeful Royals forward line broke in, and on a quick transfer between Adam Comrie, David Marshall and Barlow, the latter shoveled the disc home from atop the crease for a 4-2 game just 11 seconds later.

Unbowed, the Stingrays punctured Grubauer once more before the intermission, as Bishop converted a Ryan Turek pass with 1:34 on the clock.

Cross evened the score with 9:04 left in regulation, when he tapped in a Bishop feed from open space in front of Grubauer.

As the clock ticked under six minutes remaining, Weller broke in alone up the left wing and was able to uncork a rising shot, which Grubauer stopped with a florid stroke of his glove. The puck trickled out, however, and the Reading goaltender’s stick was half-a-second quicker than Tyler Randell to the loose disc.

“We really didn’t play well once it was 3-0,” Courville admitted. “We just kind of sat back and let them come to us. We made some bad turnovers at our blue line that they turned into some quick goals.”

Reading took control of the first period thanks to goals exactly six minutes apart, the first from MacDonald at 6:44 and the second by Barlow at 12:44.

Grubauer slid from right to left to stop a one-timer from Cross on a Stingrays power play with just under four minutes left in the first period and the Leos hit the first break with a two-goal edge.

Notes: On Tuesday, the Royals swapped forward Carlo Finucci to Evansville in exchange for future considerations, and also released forward Brendan Blandina from his ECHL contract…On Wednesday, the Hershey Bears assigned Almeida and Stan Galiev to Reading…Barlow, who has six goals in four games with the Royals since coming over from San Francisco, earned First Star, Marshall was Second Star and Langkow snagged Third Star.