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Gulls looking forward to home-ice advantage as series shifts to San Diego

The San Diego Gulls seized home-ice advantage in the AHL’s Western Conference final with a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Wolves in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series Saturday at Rosemont, Illinois. The Gulls’ reward was a chance to close out the series at home, thanks to the 2-3-2 playoff format.
The Gulls host the Wolves in Games 3, 4 and 5 on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at Pechanga Arena. Game 6, if necessary, would be Monday at Allstate Arena. The Gulls, the Ducks’ AHL affiliate, don’t want the series to go that far. They would like to take care of business this week at home.
“I love our rink,” Gulls coach Dallas Eakins said before the playoffs began. “You know what I love about it? Our rink is 52 years old. If you go up on the concourse and walk around here they’ve got up on the walls everything that’s been here. Like, Muhammad Ali fought here. Things like that.
“I don’t say it’s dumpy and dirty. I say it’s gritty. It’s a gritty place. On Friday nights, it’s a gritty place. There’s $2 beers. Our fans are special, special people. They’re really invested in our team. It’s not an easy place to play.”
The Gulls made themselves at home at San Jose’s SAP Center and Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield before splitting the first two games of the conference final last Friday and Saturday. They can avoid a return to Allstate Arena with a sweep of the three games in San Diego.
It could be a difficult task, however.
The first two games were evenly-played, with the Wolves taking a 5-4 overtime victory Friday in Game 1 and the Gulls rebounding to blank Chicago in Game 2 on Saturday. Eakins told reporters he believed the Gulls played a better game Friday than they did Saturday.
The difference in Game 2 was the standout play of goaltender Kevin Boyle, who returned to the net for the first time since suffering a head injury in Game 2 of the Gulls’ second-round victory over Bakersfield. Boyle made 29 saves in place of Jeff Glass.
“He’s waited his time and, obviously, (Glass) has been great for us (too),” Gulls center Adam Cracknell told reporters when asked about Boyle’s play. “We have confidence in both goalies, and right now we’re a pretty confident group, and we know it’s not going to get any easier going into Game 3.”
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Cracknell, 33, leads the AHL in playoff points with 15 (six goals, nine assists) in 11 games. He was acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization earlier in the season for just this reason, to provide veteran leadership, and he’s delivered in the postseason.
“We’re excited to be back in our rink,” he said. “We did our job in Chicago and got that split. It would be nice to be up 2-0, but that’s playoff hockey. We didn’t expect to sweep them. We knew it was going to be a tough-fought series. Coming home, we wanted to use that to our advantage.
“It’s a tough barn to play in and we’re just looking forward to getting going.”

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