Roadrunners fall one goal, one point short of playoff berth
By: Alexander Kinkopf
April 14, 2019 12:56 PM
Photo: Kate Dibildox
The Roadrunners’ season came to an unfortunate end following Saturday night’s 4-3 loss to the San Diego Gulls in front of a sold out crowd of 6,521 at Tucson Arena.
A devastating end to a season it was for a Tucson roster that embodied resilience, perseverance, and character.
Tucson needed just one point to secure its second straight Calder Cup playoff berth, but came up one goal short, their ferocious comeback attempt in the final stages of regulation not enough to extend the contest to overtime.
“One goal short, that’s about as close as it gets,” said captain Dakota Mermis. “It stings, when you look back, there were a lot of guys that when we had to make a push, we did. One goal short really hurts, we expected to be playing next weekend, but it’s a different story now.”
Tucson, which found itself 11 points out of the playoff picture in the third week of March, put forth a tremendous effort to claw its way back into the fight.
“Getting close isn’t winning, you come here to win, the guys in that locker room want to win, you saw it every night in their efforts,” said head coach Jay Varady. “That’s our attitude in terms of how we go about our business. We wanted to be moving on today and we’re not. We pushed back, we got close, but it’s not good enough.”
It was almost one year ago to the day, in the same building, that the Roadrunners eliminated the Gulls on the final day of the 2017-18 regular campaign.
This time, the opposite.
Following a scoreless opening frame, the Gulls struck to get on the board just under five minutes into the second to take a 1-0 lead.
With 8:54 to play in the second period, Nick Merkley dropped for Lane Pederson after entering San Diego territory. With an open avenue toward the net, Pederson drove and beat Jeff Glass up high, tying the score 1-1.
Pederson’s goal, his 23rd of the season, tied the Roadrunners’ single-season franchise record set by both Michael Bunting and Mike Sislo during in 2017-18.
With about five minutes to play in the second, the Colorado Eagles’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Barracuda went final – bumping the Eagles back into the Pacific’s fourth and final playoff spot, confirming that the Roadrunners would in fact need one point to secure a postseason berth.
Moments thereafter, the Gulls scored twice in a 2:23 span to take a 3-1 lead. San Diego extended its lead to 4-1 just over five minutes into the third.
In desperation mode, Conor Garland got the Roadrunners back to within two with 13:56 to play, burying a shot to the top right corner after gaining possession of a Mermis point shot that ricochet off of bodies in front of the net.
Down 4-2 with Adin Hill pulled from the net for an extra attacker, Garland struck yet again, getting the Roadrunners to within a goal with 1:14 left on the clock, tucking home a rebound while positioned to the left side of the Gulls’ net.
That’s as close as Tucson would get.
“It stinks, obviously,” Garland said of the loss. “There’ve been eight seeds [in the NHL] that go on to win the cup, four seeds [in the AHL] that do the same. If you get in, you have a chance, and we were a goal short, so it stings.”
Garland registered a total of six points (4G, 2A) in his three games back in the AHL.
The Roadrunners finished the 2018-19 season with a 36-26-5-3 record, good for 76 standings points.
Photo: Chris Hook