The Oklahoma City Barons have a fine scoring night against the Hamilton Bulldogs, defeating them soundly 5-2 on Wednesday evening at the Cox Convention Center.
After playing a tight, grueling, and ultimately pleasant game on Tuesday night, both teams were a little weary. The roughness of game three was an indication of how the Barons were going to turn the playoff series in order to prevent a 3-0 deficit. The shutout was a huge moral victory as much as it was a physical one. The Barons were bent on winning their first playoff game in Oklahoma City, and hopefully the next two.
As Wednesday evening arrived, and a minuscule group of fans arrived to see the Barons play, it was clear that this team again wasn't going to be pushed around. The puck dropped for period one, and Hunter Tremblay took a b-line towards a lone Hamilton player and banged him up against the boards. It was both a resounding reminder of the game plan and the tone of things to come.
Tremblay, somehow still sneaking into the roster despite the new faces on the squad, scores his first professional goal near the three minute mark of period one. Ben Ondrus slightly separates the puck from a Hamilton defensive player and Tremblay picks it up, heads toward the net, and slides it just under Drew MacIntyer's pads. As quickly as the lead came, it went away. Ian Schultz, who'd been moved up to the top line with Aaron Palushaj benched with the flu, picks up the pieces of a Nigel Dawes shot that Martin Gerber is unable to cover. The Barons slightly tapped the brakes after taking a 1-0 lead early, and paid the price. Period one ended tied at one.
Period two began with the Barons killing off a late first period penalty as they have done three games in a row. But quickly the "grinders" would get OKC on top. Zack Stortini, playing an important role with this team, would somehow poke in a goal after Ryan O`Marra rifles it towards the net. But again, the Barons backed off slightly and Hamilton left winger, Paul Zanette, slices in a tight shot around Gerber's right side. Mark Arcobello would break a lengthy 0-33 power play total against the Bulldogs this season, by finally getting a goal on chance number 34. Period two would end with the Barons on top, 3-2.
Linus Omark, and his linemates Teemu Hartikainen and Mark Arcobello, have been so entertaining to watch, yet were struggling to put the puck in the net. Arcobello got his in the second, and Omark was next. While Arcobello brought the puck up the ice, Omark surged towards the net. Upon arrival he greeted a pass that went off the blocker pad of MacIntyre. Omark never gave up on the puck, and from behind the net, flipped a shot in off the back of the Bulldog's goaltender. The Barons take a 4-2 lead. Late in the final period, Chris Vande Velde would shuffle in an empty netter and Oklahoma City had defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs in a resounding 5-2 win. The series just got interesting.
- Zorg. Fans of the Oilers, and those that have followed Zack Stortini can appreciate his role. However, his tenacious gamesmanship has brought a new dimension to the Barons lineup in the post season. Not only did he score on Wednesday night, but it was an "in the trenches" type of goal that lifted the OKC team. Prior to that, Stortini showed some NHL-caliber moves that only experience can bring (holding the puck just a split second longer, high shots through traffic, etc.). If it weren't for the Ryan O`Marra, Zack Stortini, Greg Stewart line, this series might be a different story. They have been THAT good. Suddenly, having Zack scratched in the first game seems like an oops kind of moment with hindsight being 20/20. Nonetheless, Stortini has been a huge asset for the Barons. His ability to get under the skin of some of the best Hamilton players, and NOT taking too many inerrant penalties along the way has been a welcome respite. Let's hope he keeps it going.
- Omarkian Fun. The Hartikainen, Arcobello, Omark line nabbed five of the Barons twelve points in the game. Linus and Mark both had a goal and an assist, and Teemu added an assist as well. Not only were they entertaining tonight, but they were productive. The tandem of Hartikainen and Omark is virtually unstoppable. Omark kills with speed and stick work, while Hartikainen will run you over and never lose the puck. They soar like a formation of geese headed south for the winter. It really is quite beautiful.
- Martin Gerber. Yet again, Gerber is strong. Although he didn't get the shutout like the night before, he faced 28 shots on the night, and made some incredibly acrobatic moves that kept the puck from going in only inches from the goal line. What's not typically in Martin Gerber's bag of tricks is his puck play, but he's done a lot of that in the last two games, and done it very well. He's not afraid to play the puck behind the net, and outlet a pass towards the boards. This has kept the play quick, and the Hamilton forwards out of Gerber's blind spots behind his net.
- Petry. With Colten Teubert out nursing a shoulder injury, one of the defensive players would need to step up. Anthony Aiello, who's played 23 games with the Barons, was decent. As was Alex Plante, who's been slightly forgotten in these post season games. However, Jeff Petry was the best defenseman on the ice on Wednesday. I'm not a huge Petry fan, but his intelligent play in the offensive zone kept the Barons scoring chances high, and the quick turn around for the Bulldogs very low.
- Game Plan. The Bulldogs have been completely up ended in how they approach their game. The Barons have figured out how to get the puck around Drew MacIntyre. 90% of the shots are high, mask level lasers. They've also been un-afraid to shoot the puck. 39 in game two, 46 in game three and 38 in game four - the shots are going up, and the series has begun to shift. The other interesting game changer has been Omark's persistence down the center of the ice. He, along with Hartikainen, will the puck towards the center of the offensive zone nearly every time down the ice. While the Colin McDonald, Brad Moran, Alexandre Giroux line hangs on the edges, the second line pushes hard towards the net. It's not wonder they've had such high scoring chances.
- The Crowd. As mentioned in the game day thread, the Barons played their second home game of the first round at the same time as the Oklahoma City Thunder did the same. Add to that the Oklahoma City Redhawks baseball game, and you had a recipe for disaster. For those unfamiliar with the downtown layout, the two arenas are within 100 feet of each other, and the ballpark is only a block away. Parking was brutal (unless you got there early), the crowds between the buildings were massive, and the whole downtown area was chaotic. The hockey attendance was painfully bad at 2,041. Even the baseball game somehow managed better at 2,963. This brings to light a dangerous trend that I'm not ready to snuff out quite yet. With the success of the NBA, the Barons are going to find difficulty in ticket sales, especially when both entertain playoff series. Does this spell disaster for the AHL team? Too early to judge, but if the sales trend downward into next season, and possibly into another post season things might get interesting.
- Game five takes place on Friday night in Oklahoma City before the inevitable return to Hamilton. I see the Barons sealing up game five, but still believe this series goes seven games. Let's hope the key components can stay healthy for the Barons as the games get more and more temper-filled.