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Three games in four days happens a lot in the regular season. San Diego games against Ontario happen a lot in the regular season (12 times, to be precise). Three PLAYOFF games between these two teams within the space of four days, after a season series that featured fights galore and suspensions on both sides -- that's something unusual. Also unusual is the extra level of dislike among the fan bases that comes along with not only being geographically close rivals (110 miles between the arenas), but also being affiliates of close NHL teams (30 miles between the arenas) with a 20+ year history of fan base dislike. Throw in the early exits from the NHL playoffs of both Anaheim and Los Angeles, and you get a roiling pot of emotions for the series. It's not just the fans - players on both sides have expressed a dislike for each other, including Brian McGrattan saying he didn't like anyone in the organization after the regular-season finale (in which he scored a goal and was immediately sent to the sin bin for taunting the Reign bench afterwards). Even the AHL appears to be wanting to stoke this by assigning sub-par officials like Chemelewski for back-to-back nights, even in difference cities. The series is in an unusual alternating-game format (1-1-1-1-1-1-1). Games 1 and 3 were in Ontario on Thursday and Mother's Day, sandwiching a Game 2 that went 11+ minutes into overtime on Saturday, totaling 191 minutes of near-war between the franchises. Early PP goals put the Reign out to a lead in Game One that the Gulls tried to come back from, but surrendered the late empty-net goal to lose 5-3. The Gulls jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in Game Two, but the Reign's size (which is frankly, monstrous, and I mean that not in an insulting way) just was too much for the Gulls, and eventually they wore down, giving up a PP equalizer early in the third, and eventually the rebound game-winner shortly after a faceoff 11 minutes into OT, backing the Gulls into a serious corner, down 2-0 in the series and facing travel for the back-to-back in less than 24 hours. However, the heavy minutes took their toll on the Reign as well, and a vocal group of Gulls fans witnessed a 3-0 victory on the road in a curiously relatively-empty arena (though Mother's Day could explain some of that) -- the Reign were just slightly off on pretty much all of their passes, skating attempts, etc, and just couldn't manage the dangerous 45-shot onslaught they unleashed against Gulls' backup goalie Hackett in Game Two. The series takes a breather now, with Game Four not until Friday in San Diego (followed by Game Five in Ontario the next night). The Gulls are hoping this time will allow starting goalie Anton Khudobin to recover from getting his bell rung by his own player (First-team All-AHL defenseman Brandon Montour) in Game Four of the first-round series against Texas. They're also hoping some of their offensive spark comes back in the person of top-line center Mike Sgarbossa, who has been in a boot since the start of the Reign series as well. Either way, there's a lot of animosity in the stands and in the benches -- setting the stage for what will hopefully be a long rivalry between the teams.
Milwaukee has clinched their division with 3 games remaining. Tonight, they host their Amtrak rivals the Chicago Wolves. The Ads have been 8-3 against the Wolves so far this season. The series record and their respective positions have been flipped from last season when Milwaukee missed the playoffs for the second time in their 15 year AHL history. Milwaukee (47-21-3-2) has 99 points and 0.678 winning percentage versus sixth place Chicago at 31-34-5-3 with 70 points and a 0.479 percentage. The Admirals have a few fresh faces to get into the line up tonight. They have a chance to catch the Ontario Reign, (43-18-4-1) with 91 points and a 0.689 winning percentage, to be Western Conference regular season champs. If the Admirals win out, they will hit 50 wins and 105 points. On Friday, the Admirals host the Bakersfield Condors, (28-28-7-2) with 65 points and a 0.500 winning percentage, for the first and only time in BMO Harris Bradley Center history. Next season, the Admirals move back across the street to the UW Milwaukee Panthers Arena. Milwaukee finishes the season on Saturday night at division rival and playoff qualifier Rockford (37-22-10-4) with 88 points and 0.603 winning percentage.