What a game. The Oklahoma City Barons went from doing nothing right in game one, to doing a few things right in game two, to doing nearly everything right in game three. In all aspects of the game they executed well, and were able to defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs in the first ever Barons post season game in the Cox Convention Center.
As the puck dropped, the team looked hauntingly determined. In the first three minutes of play the Barons had five hits, the forecheck was dominate, and Martin Gerber proved he had come prepared to play. Within those same three minutes, the Oklahoma City team also knew they were in for a long night. Hamilton goaltender, Drew MacIntyre, knows a thing or two about posturing in net. It's really a thing of beauty. Thus the Barons were up against a brick wall goaltender, and the whip-smart defense playing in front of him.
To say this was an important game would be an understatement. First game at home. The potential for going down three games to none. The chance to shine with NHL caliber players in the lineup. Just pick any story line. However, for the Barons, sealing the victory was of the utmost importance in this best-of-seven series.
In the first period, the game was fast and furious. From the top line of Colin McDonald, Brad Moran, Alexandre Giroux to the nasty Zack Stortini, Ryan O`Marra, Greg Stewart grinders - the hitting was fierce. Not only were players finishing checks, but they were able to separate Hamilton forwards from the puck in both zones. This hasn't happened since the second to last game of the Barons' regular season. Oklahoma City dropped fifteen first periods shots compared to Hamilton's measly six. The defensive heartache that the Barons had endured through the first two games, had an awakening as they won every individual battle on the ice. Martin Gerber, although only facing half a dozen shots in the first, had that determined look in his eye.
Period two began with Hamilton on the power play following a late first period Stortini penalty. What started out as a deja vu moment from the game a few nights ago, turned into yet another impressive defensive outpouring by the Barons. However, the game continued to take a very offensive step up. At this point in the game, Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark looked like they had been playing street hockey since they were eight years old. They passed the puck in and out of traffic, and complimented each other beautifully throughout the game. They wouldn't score on the night, but they are the most entertaining line to watch - perhaps in the entire American League. Again, the Barons would outshoot the Bulldogs in the second period, but this time only 11-10. This period had the Barons on the cusp of power play pain by taking a few mindless penalties. Yet they weathered the storm during a surge by Nigel Dawes and company. With the second period over, the game was still scoreless.
At the 6:23 mark of period three, Colin McDonald delves out a somewhat touchy cross checking penalty along the boards. He'd been trying to force things all night, and was visibly frustrated. The Bulldogs would nearly net the puck twice in this power play, but as Colin McDonald is sprung from the penalty box, the Barons MGM line would barrel down on the Bulldogs. Brad Moran would take a shot from the high slot that would deflect up and over the head of Drew MacIntyre. Colin McDonald, standing near the goal line, would wack the puck in behind the net minder, and the Barons finally break through to take a 1-0 lead over Hamilton. A little over seven minutes later, Alexandre Giroux would steal the puck from Bulldogs centerman, Andres Engqvist, slide towards the defending net and put in a wrist shot that sealed the game for the Barons. Oklahoma City wins game three 2-0.
- Martin Gerber. What can I say about Gerber, but "WOW!". He played composed, assured, and smart the entire night. Realizing the pace needed to be quick, he rarely covered the puck up. He came out of his net to stop a breakaway by poke checking it out of a Hamilton forwards path. His angles on incoming pucks were spot-on. Although he only faced 26 shots on the night, he was named the first star by the media members because of his consistency. In those 26 shots there were at least a dozen that were six inches from going in. Remarkable that the guy still has it all these years later. A shutout in any playoff series is special. The goal tending dual just got good.
- Colten Teubert. Late in the third period, after having a mind numbingly strong game, Teubert took a hit and landed awkwardly into the boards. He was visibly shaken, and struggled to stand. It appeared that he was holding his right shoulder and arm area. He was a key puzzle piece to the strong defense that was on display for this game. His absence might not make a massive difference, but he adds a certain swagger that had been missing the first two playoff games.
- SOS Line. The Stortini, O`Marra, Stewart line was rough and tumble on this night. They were able to shut down the top scoring line of Hamilton which had obliterated the team so far in this series. Not only were they hitting hard along the boards, but they took few penalties which is a tough task to complete. Stortini was running his mouth, O`Marra was handling the puck well, and Stewart had a few fine scoring opportunities. I like the edge that Stortini particularly brings to this group. Other than the Hartikainen, Arcobello, Omark line - this was my favorite to watch in game three.
- Line Two. Called the "second line" but there is nothing second best about that Hartikainen, Arcobello, Omark line. They've got charisma. It has been many months since we've seen Teemu and Linus play together. I had forgotten how complimentary that can be of each other. More noticeably, Omark has gotten much more intelligent with the puck. There were at least two NHL-ready give and go's cooked up by these two that had Hamilton defenders loosing sight of the puck. Hartikainen took a pretty good beating along the boards in this game, but that's how he likes it. Rarely did he lose the puck even when triple teamed down low. Likewise, Omark dangled the puck for :15 for an entire possession past the blue line in the third period. Enjoy them now Oklahoma City, they'll never play here again. They're Oilers.
- The Crowd. I'll be the first to eat crow. I just knew deep down that Oklahoma City would surprise the world and drop 5,000 in attendance in game one. Not even close. The 2,303 totals were embarrassing. Although the crowd was loud and proud, the sell of a first round playoff series is going to be tough. Especially when all eyes are on the Oklahoma City NBA branch, the Thunder, playing across the street during the same time frame. Pick and choose OKC, but you missed one of the best hockey games in this city in the last six years.
- .Drew MacIntyre. Gerber won out, but the Bulldogs' Drew MacIntyre is a rare breed. Faced with 46 shots on the night, MacIntyre only got beat out-right one of those times (the Giroux goal). He's unbelievably calm and composed no matter the situation. But if his play holds up, the Barons might be in trouble. Assuming any team can plaster a goal tender with 46 shots each and every night is a stretch, but that's what it might take to find a hole in Drew's armor. The only asterisks to this conversation is the one-on-one battles. As you saw with the Giroux goal, MacIntyre can be beat. He relies heavily on his defenders to keep his zone clear, and when he's in those head-to-head scenarios on breakaway chances he gets a little fundamentally off. Tuck that away in your hat Coach Nelson
- Dawes & Co. The Nigel Dawes like that has had the Barons bumfuzzled through two games finally was stopped. Dawes, along with Aaron Palushaj and Andreas Engqvist only combined for five shots in this game. But most importantly, only one of those shots came on the power play where they had been so deadly in games past.
- Next Game. Not much breathing room for the Barons. They face the Bulldogs again on Wednesday evening at 7:05pm.