LOS ANGELES — At least they’re saying all the right things…
But that’s about all that can be said about the Ontario Reign, who are looking way, way up at a 3-0 series deficit against the Lake Erie Monsters in the American Hockey League’s Western Conference Finals after the Monsters shutout the Reign in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series, 4-0, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Monsters can complete a four-game sweep in tonight’s Game 4, also in Cleveland, and the way they’ve dominated the series, it almost seems like a foregone conclusion, as the Reign have had no answer to the Monsters’ speed thus far.
“They were a better team tonight,” center Brett Sutter told the media after Game 3. “They played their game plan and we got away from things a little bit. But…that one’s over and done with. We re-focus and get ready for the next game. We’ve got a couple of days to figure it out. We’re confident we can win that one.”
“They’re a good team, a quick team,” right wing Joel Lowry, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, told the media after Game 3. “They got more pucks behind our defensemen than we did. We had too many turnovers, and they capitalized on those. When you get behind the eight-ball against a good team like them it’s tough to come back.”
Turnovers have been something head coach Mike Stothers has focused on since Game 1.
“The same things that have troubled us throughout the series—we turned the puck over,” he told the media after Game 3. “We turned the puck over, they scored a goal. We turned the puck over, they scored a goal. We turned the puck over, they scored a goal. I counted six times where their players kept their speed, laid [the puck] in, picked it up on the other side and they got a forecheck going.”
“We turn the puck over—their transition is good, and it’s in the back of your net,” he added. “If you keep doing it, it’s just going to keep biting you.”
Going into Game 4, the Reign must limit their focus to one period, even just one shift.
“We’ve got guys who just won’t give up,” defenseman Jeff Schultz told the media after practice in Cleveland on May 25. “We can’t look too far ahead of tomorrow’s game. It’s almost like you’ve got to take it period by period. We can’t be looking at the big prize. We know it’s do or die, and that our backs are against the wall, so we’ve got to come out with a lot of urgency, and stick to how we know how to play—stick to our system and do what we did all year to get us to where we were.”
“Coming out with more energy and a little more desperation will be a big thing for us,” Schultz added. “Lots of energy, lots of positive [attitudes] on the bench, and playing with that do or die attitude.”
“We re-focus, regroup, [and] realize what we did wrong,” said Sutter. “Our focus now is on just one game.”
Despite the fact that their situation is dire, as reported earlier, Reign player are, at least, saying the right things.
“We’re a team that doesn’t quit,” Kings right wing prospect Justin Auger told the media after practice on May 25. “We’re going to battle until the last buzzer. We’ve been that way all year. We’ve still got a lot of confidence in this room. We know what it takes to win, and we’re going to come back stronger on Thursday.”
“We just keep the focus on us,” Auger added. “It’s about what we do. We haven’t played our best hockey yet. If we come out and play our best hockey, we’re a confident bunch of guys. We know we can come back from this.”
Reign players also noted that they haven’t played as well as they can in this series.
“I think we need to play a full 60 minutes,” said Lowry. “We still haven’t done that yet. I think you saw, in the third period of the first two games, when we play our style, and the way we’re capable of playing, we’re generating a lot of chances and carrying a lot of the play. We just need to do that for a full 60 [minutes, and if we do], we should have a good chance to win some games.”
“It’s still a seven-game series,” added Lowry. “We didn’t get the result we wanted in the first three games, but we’ve got to keep plugging away, take it one game at a time, just see what we can do on Thursday, and go from there.”
“We [just] have to realize that we’re a real good team,” Sutter noted. “We’re probably not playing the way we need to play. Tomorrow’s a work day. We’re going to be better—just one game at a time.”
To this point in the series, Lake Erie has dictated play, something that must change for the Reign to have any chance of extending the series.
“We should know how they play now, and how they defend, so [we have to get] back to our system—good dumps, good forecheck—using our big bodies in their zone, getting pucks to the net, shooting for rebounds, crashing the net—the simple, basics of hockey, the old clichés of hockey,” Schultz noted. “That’s kind of how we’ve got to take it.”
But so far, the Reign haven’t come close to doing that enough to win a period, let alone a game.
“[We have to] win a game,” said Stothers. “That’s it. Just win a game. You can’t concentrate on winning four. You’ve got to win one and take it from there.”
It’s going to take a lot more than the right words for the Reign just to win Game 4. It’s going to take the action needed to back up those words, but given the Monsters&rsquo’ tremendous speed advantage, not to mention an advantage in terms of skill, the outlook for the Reign is, at best, bleak.
Of course, stranger things have happened in playoff hockey…
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