Barracuda Extend Record Winning Streak to Six Games, Maintain Hold on First Place
SAN JOSE — No one needed to say anything. Everyone understood. It couldn’t happen again.
The last time the Barracuda (25-11-4) received an opportunity to secure first place on home ice, they laid an egg against the Ontario Reign, surrendering two first period goals in a 3-2 loss.
With the scorching-hot San Diego Gulls (24-13-4) in town on Wednesday, and first place in the Pacific Division on the line, the Barracuda put the lesson of the Jan. 13 loss to the Reign out onto the ice, picking up a 2-1 win at the SAP Center to extend their winning streak to a franchise-record six games.
“Last time we had first place on the line in the division, we threw a stinker out here, so we wanted to make sure we came out well and took advantage of an opportunity,” goalie Troy Grosenick said.
“Nothing was really said. It was just understood amongst the guys. We’ve had that opportunity before and tonight we showed that we learned from it.”
The Barracuda returned home from a seven-game road trip to find themselves in a classic heavyweight showdown with the Gulls, who entered the contest riding a 12-game point streak, the second-longest in the AHL this season, having outscored their opponents 45-19 in those contests. A Gulls win coupled with a Reign loss to the Bakersfield Condors would have propelled them into first place.
The game also featured a tremendous goaltender’s duel between Grosenick and Gulls netminder Jhonas Enroth. Grosenick entered the game leading all AHL goalies in save percentage (.929) and shutouts (six) while ranking second in goals-against average (2.13). His opponent was a perfect 8-0 with a .940 save percentage and a 1.64 goals-against average since he joined the team in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization on Jan. 10.
But round one went to Grosenick, who stole a second-consecutive game for his squad by making 38 saves, including 14 stops in the third period.
“Bottom line was our goalie was better than theirs,” head coach Roy Sommer said.
“That’s why they’re paying him the big bucks. He’s one of the top goalies in the league right now the way he’s playing. He deserves kudos for that with everything he went through last year and the year before.”
Grosenick allowed his team to squeak out a 2-1 win by making a handful of sensational saves. He enabled the Barracuda to grab an early lead by going post-to-post on a cross-ice one timer, making a left-pad save just 3:08 into the contest.
In the middle of the second, he stopped Kevin Roy with his left pad as he was streaking down the slot all alone. In the third, Grosenick flashed his glove on a snipe from Brian Cooper in the slot, causing so much frustration the Gulls blue liner almost smashed his stick against the glass before finding his self control.
“He’s the best goalie in the league, there’s not much else you can say,” power forward Adam Helewka said.
“I know every time I make a mistake he’s there to bail me out, and we’ve got to be better about doing the same thing because he’s been bailing us out a lot.”
Grosenick picked up his 15th win of the season because the Barracuda avoided a first period let down in their first home game since Jan. 16.
Despite playing seven-consecutive games on the road, the Barracuda knew they couldn’t afford another sluggish start with first place on the line, so they spotted Grosenick a 2-0 lead heading into the third.
Helewka opened the scoring at 13:58 of the first, intercepting a D-to-D pass at his own blue line and beating Enroth to the short side on a two-on-one play with Buddy Robinson.
“He thought I was going over to Buddy, so when I threw it at the net there, short side, there was a little bit of room and it squeaked through,” Helewka said.
Nikita Jevpalovs gave the Barracuda a two-goal cushion just 89 seconds into the middle frame, pouncing on a Tim Heed shot that got knocked down in the slot and flipping a backhander past Enroth.
The Gulls scored their lone goal at 12:26 of the third when Chris Wagner punched in the puck in a battle royal scrum in front of the net. But the Barracuda closed the game out, learning from the debacle in Winnipeg on Saturday when they almost coughed up a 4-1 lead to the Manitoba Moose in the final 9:17 of the third by surrendering three goals.
“We know teams are never going to give up on us just like we don’t ever give up, so it definitely a good learning curve there,” Helewka said.