J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/Sun Newspaper
ONTARIO - It was suggested to head coach Karl Taylor on Sunday, after the Reign's 6-5 shootout loss to the Idaho Steelheads, that taking five out of a possible six standings points against the best team in the National Conference was not too shabby.
Not shabby, but not enough.
"We wanted all six," Taylor said. "We're being really greedy to say that, but we were in position."
That the Reign were even in position to beat the Steelheads on a third straight night seemed remote with nine minutes left in the third period. Matt McKnight put Idaho ahead 5-3 on a disputed goal, poking in a loose puck after teammate Mark McCutcheon barreled into Reign goalie Mike Zacharias, preventing him from playing the puck.
After getting even physically with several open-ice hits, the Reign drew even on the scoreboard with goals from Tony Voce and Geoff Walker. A scoreless overtime followed, and the only shootout goal came on the final attempt by Idaho's Marty Flichel.
With only six games left in the season, the National Conference playoff race is no clearer now than it has been the last two weeks. The Reign (29-27-3-7) are tied with the Utah Grizzlies (30-28-3-5) at 68 points for the seventh and final playoff position, but Utah holds the first tiebreaker because it has more wins.
Four teams are separated by two points for the third through sixth positions, and the Pacific Division-leading Bakersfield Condors sit second in the conference at 73 points.
So even though the Reign are technically in last place, "everybody's in play," Taylor said. "We're five points out of clinching the division title again. Let's think about that."
Seven of the 10 goals came on the power play, as both Idaho (4 for 9) and the Reign (3 for 5) enjoyed success with the man advantage. Zacharias, who had not started a game since Jan. 23 prior to this weekend, started all three games against Idaho and made 30 saves Sunday.
"We asked him if he was tired last night and he said, `I've had enough rest all season.' I thought it was a great answer," Taylor said.
Voce scored twice, and Andrew Martens, Greg Hogeboom and Walker added one goal apiece. Martens finished with a season-high four points, including three assists.
His easiest assist of the game - if not the season - came on Walker's goal with 2:18 left in the third period, which tied the game at 5. Martens tapped the puck ahead to Walker, who beat two Idaho skaters through the neutral zone, split a pair of defenders in the offensive zone, and finished the rush with a backhanded shot past Rejean Beauchemin.
"(Walker) had a full head of steam," Martens said. "Unbelievable. I was yelling at him the whole way up the ice, `get going.' He did all the work."
Walker then skated all the way back down the ice to bump pads with Zacharias, who was none too happy about McKnight's goal earlier in the period. Replays showed that Reign defenseman David Walker put his gloves into McCutcheon's back on the play, but McCutcheon appeared to exaggerate the contact by leaping into Zacharias.
McKnight's goal gave Idaho a two-goal lead, but also served as motivation for the Reign.
"We just were really mad. We were pissed off," Taylor said. "We just ran guys over and played really hard, and we got really lucky to come back. That doesn't usually happen."