J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/Sun
ONTARIO - Two weeks ago, when head coach Karl Taylor told the Reign to move on from the season's first 50 games and concentrate on the final 22, even he didn't expect six consecutive victories to follow.
Yet since then, the Reign have gone from the worst team in the ECHL's National Conference to the hottest. Their team record-tying sixth consecutive victory came Sunday, 2-0 over the Bakersfield Condors - the same team that authored a 7-0 shellacking of the Reign before the streak began.
"We put ourselves in a bit of a hole by losing a lot of games in the middle of the year," said Tony Voce, who scored the first goal. "We were on the road. We've got our home games here and we've been playing well, working hard. Doing little things - getting the puck out, getting mad at ourselves for not getting the puck out - and we're scoring goals. That's the main thing."
Mike Howe scored a goal in the third period and Curtis Darling needed only 20 saves for his third shutout of the season. The Reign mustered just 25 shots on goal themselves, as both teams showed the effects of playing three games in three days.
After going all season without winning every game of a three-in-three sequence, the Reign have done it on back-to-back weekends. That's allowed them to pick up seven points on Stockton, six points on the Condors and five points on Las Vegas in the Pacific Division standings.
More importantly, the Reign are now a point ahead of Las Vegas - which beat Stockton on Sunday - for the seventh and final playoff berth in the conference.
"We've been fortunate," Taylor said of the streak, "but we've also worked really hard in critical areas of the game to create the situation."
Much like in Saturday's 3-1 victory over Utah, the Reign were able to win Sunday because of their defense. Bakersfield failed on all seven of its power-play opportunities and Darling was a rock after counterpart Jean-Phillippe Levasseur was benched for an extra attacker with nearly two minutes left.
Voce got the only power-play goal for the Reign in five chances, deflecting a hard shot/pass from the point by Greg Hogeboom at 1:55 of the first period. Hogeboom also got the primary assist on Howe's goal, finding Howe cutting down the slot after Tim Kraus created the odd-man rush by blocking a shot.
The luck factor entered in at 6:07 of the second period when Bakersfield defenseman Eric Regan fetched a game misconduct for not tucking in his jersey, which came completely off during a fight with Brian Kilburg.
It was a strange day for the announced crowd of 5,624 at Citizens Business Bank Arena; shortly before the fight they were treated to an on-ice wedding during the first intermission.