It's hard to tell, but he's smiling under there. Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.
In front of a frenzied Victoria Day crowd in Toronto, the Barons and Marlies continued their quests for the top spot in the West. It was a game that was likely going to be full of emotion. Not only did the teams end the first two games with a win and a loss each, but we also saw a bit of the rough stuff to end the second game in OKC. But Coach Todd Nelson insisted in the pre-game interview that his team was prepared for what the Marlies had coming. "This is a pivotal game, no doubt," said Nelson, "and our guys will be ready to go. I promise." And indeed both teams seemed ready to go.
Oklahoma City came out red hot, driving the puck at Ben Scrivens at a quickened pace. Toronto appeared unable to keep up, but with some really solid goaltending, they overcame an early onslaught. It was the Oklahoma City Barons that would give up the first two penalties of the game. The second, a boarding penalty by Curtis Hamilton, cracked the door on the Marlies power play unit. Toronto would score after hanging on to the puck in the offensive zone very diligently. Care of a Matt Lashoff pass to Philippe Dupuis, the Marlies take an early lead. Lashoff, who has only played two postseason games following a hand injury, looked sharp in the first period. As time expired, it seemed that the first twenty was not without at least one casulty. Nazem Kadri, after taking a hard hit from Cam Abney, was ushered to the dressing room after two or three shifts. Marlies lead 1-0 after the first period.
The second period begins with huge scoring chances by the Barons. Anton Lander, Antti Tyrvainen, Magnus Paajarvi, and even Curtis Hamilton nearly crack the stone cold goaltending of Ben Scrivens. But again the Marlies surge on. After a face-off win by Toronto, Teemu Hartikainen is tagged with a weak elbowing call. He heads to the box, and Toronto capitalizes on the opportunity. Marlies captain, Ryan Hamilton, whistles a right wing shot past Yann Danis. Toronto is up 2-0.
The Barons would not go quietly. Philippe Dupuis is sent to the box after (slightly) boarding Dylan Yeo. The Oklahoma City power play looks stale, but Bryan Rodney takes a left face-off dot shot that somehow sneaks around Ben Scrivens. The game is now 2-1, still favoring the Marlies.
OKC would score again, this time off a fantastic cross ice pass from Hartikainen to Bryan Helmer. Helmer takes the shot, it rebounds off Scrivens blocker, and Chris Vende Velde nets the tying goal. But it wouldn't last long.
At the under 1 minute mark, Anton Lander coughs the puck up down the center to a streaking Matt Frattin. Frattin hits the slot in stride, and pots a goal for the Marlies. (The Lander giveaway was absolutely terrible. Not an NHL type of thing to do). Time expires and the Marlies take a 3-2 lead, and a smidge more momentum into the third period.
It takes nearly 12 minutes for the Barons to tie things up, but they do so on a Magnus Paajarvi beauty. After killing a Marlies power play, Magnus tracks the puck on the left wing, head fakes and hesitates before wristing the tying goal behind Scrivens.
But then things took a turn for the worse. Matt Frattin scores on a nifty toe drag that Yann Danis has to stop. The goal, scored at the under 2 minute mark, was the death sentence for the Barons. The Barons had an opportunity at the 1:30 mark to squeeze back into the game after Vande Velde gets tripped, but instead they let in a short-handed, empty-netter with roughly a minute remaining.
The Barons lose to the Marlies 5-3 in game three of the Western Conference Finals. Toronto takes a 2-1 series lead.
Nazem Kadri didn't return to the game after taking only 3 shifts. He was hit by Cameron Abney in the first period, nicked up, and unable to return. Interested to see how he's doing.
The Barons power play was beyond ugly. 1 for 5 on the day with a long distance Bryan Rodney shot being the lone goal on the +1. It was a great shot, but one that goes in probably 1 out of 50 times. In all, the passing and lack of creativity continues to haunt the man advantage for the Barons. Bryan Rodney continues to be the point man, but the entire unit (in its many forms) continues to be ugly. In other new, the Marlies PK is around 98% in the postseason. What a crazy number.
On the other side of the special teams debacle the Barons went 2 for 4 on the PK. That's not very good considering how positive it has been for much of the season.
In the end, some things will need to be addressed. The Barons have to make smarter, cleaner passes. They have to organize that power play or they'll get burned. They need to be willing to get ugly in front of Scrivens. And the kill needs to get stout. Hopefully the return of Hunter Tremblay, Triston Grant, and Josh Green can help in those areas. But it won't fix everything.
Game four, in Toronto, is Wednesday evening. Check back in for the GDT in a couple of days.