SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Not even a trip to California or the loss of two key players seems to be slowing down the Iowa Wild. After losing goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen and defenseman Matt Bartkowski to the parent club a day earlier, the Wild took their three-game winning streak to San Diego to take on the Gulls. Iowa dominated this contest, outshooting San Diego 42-20, including a club record 24 shots in the second period. But, it would be a highlight reel goal by Mitch McLain in the third that would prove to be the difference maker in the 3-2 victory. Sam Anas and Gerald Mayhew remained red hot, with each player tallying two points.
Iowa controlled the action early on, but it was the Gulls who had the first big scoring opportunity. Just after the seven-minute mark, the pass came right to Chase De Leo in the slot. He was alone on the Wild doorstep, but Iowa netminder Mat Robson knocked away the redirect to keep it scoreless.
The Wild nearly took the lead five minutes later when J.T. Brown took a pass in the neutral zone, sped by a defender and moved in on Anthony Stolarz on a breakaway. He went to his backhand, but Stolarz tracked the play perfectly, knocking the chance away with his stick.
The Gulls entered the second period a man short, but were able to stave off the red hot Wild power play. Back at full strength, San Diego took the lead at 2:39. Hunter Drew fired a shot from the point that Robson saved, but the puck came to Blake Pietila, who put the rebound back on net. His initial attempt was stopped, but he corralled his own rebound and put it in for his seventh goal of the year.
The lead lasted just 97 seconds before the Anas, the AHL Player of the Week, tied the score. Mayhew took a shot that Stolarz saved, but the rebound came right to Anas in the slot. He wristed the puck into the net for his 10th goal of the year, tying the score at one. The assist extended Mayhew’s point streak to nine (nine goals, eight assists), the longest current streak in the AHL. The goal extended Anas’ consecutive point streak to six (four goals, 11 assists).
At the 11-minute mark, Iowa was on the power play when Stolarz made a brilliant save. The puck was passed by Kyle Rau through the crease to Luke Johnson who was alone at the left faceoff circle. He blasted a one-timer as the San Diego netminder quickly slid across the crease to block the attempt.
The Wild took their first lead with 6:44 left in the second as the Mayhew-Anas combination delivered again. Nico Sturm took a shot that was deflected behind the net. Mayhew quickly picked it up, then turned and fired a perfect pass in front that Anas redirected in for his second goal of the game.
For Anas, the roles were reversed in this contest, as he was the goal-scorer and Mayhew the playmaker, something he joked about following the contest.
“I told him it was time he started giving me the puck for once,” he explained with a laugh. “We have great chemistry, he and I.”
The Gulls tied the score with a little over four minutes left in the second, scoring four seconds into their own power play opportunity. Chris Mueller won the draw back to the point. Sam Carrick took a blast that Robson never saw, giving him his 13th goal of the year.
The game went into the third tied at two, and Iowa had a few great chances early on to retake the lead, but Stolarz came up big each time. Just before the eight-minute mark, it was Robson’s turn as a perfect outlet feed sent Jack Kopacka in on a breakaway. He tried to go five-hole, but Robson was having none of it, making the save.
That proved to be huge as McLain gave the Wild the lead seconds later. After the save on Kopacka, Robson fed the puck to Brown who headed out of the Iowa end. He passed the puck to McLain just before he entered the San Diego zone. McLain used his speed to get by the Gulls defender, then swept in front of the net where he beat Stolarz up high with his second goal of the year. Robson earned his first professional assist on the play.
After the game, McLain discussed his game-winning tally.
“I saw the other D kind of collapse on me, so I just wanted to kind of chip it around him. On a breakaway, you never really know what is going to happen with a rolling puck, so I just kind of shot it and it went in.”
With a little over 11 minutes left in the contest, the Wild limited San Diego to a couple of scoring chances, which Robson stopped each time. The Gulls pulled their goalie with a little more than a minute left in the game, but they would not record a shot on net, as the Wild preserved the 3-2 victory.
After the game, Wild Head Coach Tim Army discussed the team’s quick start and how he felt that catapulted the team to victory.
“I thought we had a great start. I thought we were the better team in the first three or four minutes, and I think that kind of put them back on their heels. I think that is a good message when you’re on the road and you come into a place like this and you send a message that, ‘Hey, we came here to play.’ ”
Robson was solid in net, stopping 28 shots. Despite taking the loss, Stolarz played extremely well, recording 39 saves.
The Wild have now won four straight and eight of their last nine games. They look to extend their winning streak on Friday night when they take on the Gulls once again. The puck drops at 9:00 CT.
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