Cuda Corner: Third period comeback lifts Barracuda over Wild

I guess you could say it was a ... <em>wild</em> finish.

Consistency hasn’t been the San Jose Barracuda’s friend in the month of February, but if Tuesday night was any indication, they might heating back up at just the right time.

San Jose’s 5-3 victory over the Iowa Wild at the SAP was the result of a huge third period performance, where the Barracuda came back from a 2-1 deficit to score four unanswered goals in under 10 minutes. Dylan Gambrell, sporting a brand new number seven jersey, led the ‘Cuda attack with the game winning goal and two assists, while Josef Korenar earned his nineteenth win of the season with a 33-save performance.

The Barracuda’s climb to victory wasn’t the only thing that made for an interesting evening at the rink; Tuesday also marked the debut of new prospect Jonathan Dahlen, the Swedish winger picked up by the Sharks at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline from the Vancouver Canucks. The son of former Shark legend Ulf, the 21-year-old Dahlen joined San Jose having posted 29 points in 51 during his first full AHL season with the Utica Comets.

The newest member of the ‘Cuda, who had only arrived in the Bay Area at 11 a.m., talked about how the experience had been exhausting, but finished in a rewarding way.

“It’s been a long day, but it was fun to get started with a win,” Dahlen said, following the win over Iowa. “It was kind of nice also to get thrown right into it like that, so you don’t have to think too much. You just go out and play, then get a nice good sleep tonight.”

In the opening stages of the game, the Wild’s quick ability to counterattack proved to be a challenge for the ‘Cuda to match. Iowa peppered Korenar with 17 shots in the first period, including a breakaway chance from Will Bitten that the Czech netminder turned aside easily with the left pad.

Eventually the Wild broke through when a San Jose chance quickly turned back up ice for an Iowa odd man rush. Matt Read carried the puck towards the net before making a slick drop pass to Mitch McLain that caught Korenar off guard. McLain easily tapped the puck into the wide open cage for his eighth goal of the season, with linemates Read and Dmitry Sokolov picking up the assists.

But the Barracuda are no strangers to slow starts and their ability to battle back into games went on full display in the second period, starting with an early Francis Perron hooking call where the team’s penalty killing unit ended up forcing an offensive zone faceoff. Gambrell won the ensuing draw back to Nick DeSimone, who let a bullet of a shot sail past Iowa goalie Kaapo Kahkonen to tie the game.

Even as the ice tilted in favour of the ‘Cuda, a similar offensive zone faceoff win two minutes later took a turn against them when Kyle Wood’s stick exploded on a one timer attempt. This gave the Wild a 2-on-1 with Jacob Middleton as the lone defender back. With Middleton cutting off the passing lane across, winger Gerald Mayhew elected to drop the puck back to a trailing Cal O’Reilly, who snapped it past the outstretched arm of Korenar to restore the Iowa lead.

Just moments after O’Reilly’s goal, San Jose caught a lucky break when Middleton, Wood and Kyle Rau all collided at the San Jose blue line, springing Iowa on a sudden 2-on-0 for McLain and Solokov. Solokov buried the feed from McLain in the net, but the referees ruled that Rau had held up Middleton with a hold, cancelling out the goal and keeping the Wild’s lead at 2-1 going into the third period.

San Jose wasted no time in taking advantage of their second life. A minute and a half into the final frame, Francis Perron won a battle along the side boards and found a wide open Cavan Fitzgerald waiting in the slot. Fitzgerald had all the time and space to pick the corner, snapping the puck over Kahkonen’s blocker side for his fourth tally of the year.

Two minutes later, an aggressive forecheck by Wood and T.J. Hensick paid off when Gambrell picked up Hensick’s centering pass in front of the crease and tapped it in, giving the Barracuda their first and only lead of the night on his 15th goal of the season.

From that point on, the ‘Cuda never looked back. Jeremy Roy wired a slap shot past Kahkonen with 14 minutes remaining to extend the lead, and Jon Martin put the game out of reach five minutes later with a long shot of his own that redirected into the Wild net.

Gerald Mayhew gave the Wild some life in the late stages of the evening with his 19th of the year, but the ‘Cuda hung on to improve their points total to 66, leaving them just three points behind the Bakersfield Condors for the Pacific Division lead with a single game in hand.

For Roy Sommer, the team’s offensive struggles of late were bound to pay off, and tonight there was a full four line effort to earn it.

“The biggest thing is we haven’t been scoring a lot of goals lately. We’ve kind of been sticking with it and we were rewarded tonight. Everyone was contributing, every next group that went over the wall was pressuring pucks and turnovers. We were getting chances and the [defense] were involved,” Sommer said.

The Barracuda will try to build off their late game heroics on Friday when they visit the Ontario Reign at 7 p.m. Pacific.