Riley Gill stopped all 27 shots he faced, and the Reading Royals rode a three-goal first-period explosion to subdue the Stockton Thunder by a 4-0 count in Game 2 of the Kelly Cup Finals on Sunday evening at Sovereign Center.
“It’s certainly less stressful on the bench,” Royals head coach Larry Courville said about the difference between Game 2 and Game 1′s back-and-forth 6-5 overtime contest. “I’ve been pulling my hair out this year. The guys have done a great job winning those close games but it was nice not to go to OT.”
Alex Berry, Brett Flemming and T.J. Syner all tallied in a span of less than 10 minutes in the opening frame, while Evan Barlow, who assisted on Reading’s opening score, put home another score late in the second period.
Gill posted his third shutout of these playoffs, and the fourth of his ECHL postseason career.
“I knew I just had to play another solid game like I have all playoffs,” Gill said of his whitewash. “That’s all I concentrated on and I played a good one today.”
Olivier Roy, who was under siege with 49 shots in Saturday’s Game 1 overtime loss and gave up six scores, only had to face 27 through two periods but surrendered four in defeat. Tyler Bunz subbed in the third period and stopped all seven shots thrown his way, but his perfect goaltending couldn’t make up for the lack of thunder from his teammates.
The series shifts back to Stockton for the next three games in the best-of-seven set on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. Should the Royals need to come home, a potential Game 6 will occur on Tuesday, May 28.
Despite being down 2-0 in the series, Stockton returns to the comfort of its Arena, where the Western Conference champions are 8-1-1 at home during the 2013 playoffs.
“We believe we can win this thing. We believe we can win four straight,” noted Thunder head coach Matt Thomas. We believe we can win every night we play, and certainly at home.”
Gill gave the visitors an early chance to take the lead, called for a delay-of-game for shooting the puck over the glass inside of a minute after the opening faceoff, but the Royals didn’t bend.
Despite a breakneck pace from the get-go, neither team was able to break through until the 8:32 mark, when Barlow streaked up the left-wing side and fed a breaking Berry for the successful redirection and 1-0 edge.
Flemming doubled the advantage with 6:27 remaining in the first, when his low, hard shot from the right point near the boards and blue line sailed untouched through traffic and inside the far post.
The burst was capped on a power play at 18:23, as Brock Shelgren’s cross-ice pass was feathered home by Syner.
“Clearly we let this thing get away from us in the first,” Thomas added. “We just couldn’t recover. We missed too many opportunities.”
Reading led 4-0 just after the completion of a Stockton penalty, when Barlow’s prayer from the goal line to the right of Roy deflected off the netminder’s stick and through his pads. A back-breaker, the Thunder had little else in the tank from there.
“We’re an offensive team,” Syner said. “When we’re working hard, we get a lot of shots. They will try to prevent that since they’re a defensive team. But we’ve gotten the jump on them in two straight.”
Bunz held serve in the third period, but the game was already decided at that point. Gill’s best save of the contest came near the seven-minute mark of the middle frame, when a turnover deep in the Reading zone found the stick of Thunder forward Shawn Weller, with nothing but ice between him and the Royals’ net.
Despite several stick fakes, Gill never lost composure and sticked away the chance. It was a poignant reminder just how punchless the Stockton offense was after pumping home five in the series opener on just 30 shots.
Notes: Gill improved to 11-3 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .927 save percentage…Reading captain Yannick Tifu was held scoreless after a four-point (1G, 3A) performance on Saturday night. He still leads the club with 10 goals…Berry extended his point streak to seven games (7G, 2A)…The Royals upped their home playoff mark to 8-2, while Stockton’s road record this postseason fell to 4-6…The Thunder were blanked for the third time in these playoffs, having dropped a pair of 3-0 decisions at Las Vegas in Games 3 and 5 of the first round…Attendance was 4,693.