Oklahoma City Barons at San Antonio Rampage Game Three

As the temperature in Oklahoma climbs, so does the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Onward to San Antonio! Photo courtesy of Rob Ferguson. All rights reserved.

I've got a long ways to travel
I've got a long ways to travel
I've got a long ways to travel
Before I ever get home

Takes a rocking chair to rock
Rubber ball to roll
Black-haired woman to satisfy my soul

I've got a long ways to travel, I thought that you knowed
I've got a long ways to travel
I've got a long ways to travel
Before I ever get home

- "Long Ways To Travel", Woody Guthrie

Eight or so hours down I-35 into Texas is a less than entertaining trip. By car or bus it's exhausting, flat, and boring. By air it's tedious. Anyway you slice it, the Barons have a long ways to travel, albeit closer than most AHL posts, but still a long ways.

But it would have seemed even longer had the team not found beauty in a last minute goal in regulation, and a fabulous overtime period in game two of the Rampage vs. Barons behemoth of a series.

After nearly losing in regulation, and watching Magnus Paajarvi emote as Superman with nine seconds left, the Oklahoma City Barons find themselves staring at a tied second round series, but with three straight games in San Antonio beginning this evening. It will be another hard fought game, with very little time to leave your seat, grab a snack, or do any type of dawdling. The scoring has been high, fast, and in bunches. Both defenses have, at times, been unrecognizable but efficient. Fans, writers, and coaches all predicted this series to be low in goal totals, and tight through the third period. And perhaps one of those things we actually got right.

It's interesting to note that the best defensive players for the Barons have been Dylan Yeo, Dan Ringwald, and Alex Plante in that order. Dylan Yeo, the seasoned ECHL player with fantastic leadership skills, a great shot, and patience with the puck has been perfectly pleasant. He's recorded 4 assists and a goal in the postseason already. Dan Ringwald, who most recently played for the Stockton Thunder, seems ready to make the jump to the AHL, and perhaps a minor league contract with the Barons next season. And then there's Alex Plante. What a season for the once highly watched prospect in the Oilers system. Not only has he been the best Barons defender during the regular season, but arguably the best in the postseason as well. You'd expect the Colten Teubert's of the world to shine, but it's the deep, underdoggy players that are getting the job done defensively. Which is a good thing when you're trying to win.

Offensively speaking it's "as advertised" and business as usual with one minor wrinkle. Mark Arcobello leads all team skaters with three goals and five assists. Followed by Tyler Pitlick at two and five, Josh Green at four and two, Teemu Hartikainen at three and two, and Magnus Paajarvi at one and four. One of those things is not like the other, and its name is Tyler Pitlick. Some, including the gentleman writing this post, will call this a huge step for the rookie. He's been mesmerizing over the last three months, and will be a key component to next year's Barons success. It would be easy to look at Pitlick and discuss his projection in similar to terms of that of Philippe Cornet -- who likewise took some time to burst from the duldrums. But Tyler is an altogether different kind of player, and that point is being hammered in stone during the first and second rounds of the Calder Cup. He's got a little Hartikainen like physicality to his game, but also the stick graces of a Magnus Paajarvi. And he's continuing to give the Rampage all that they can handle. Well done rookie.

The enthusiastic finish to game number two in Oklahoma City will hopefully spill over into game three in San Antonio. The Barons will need to lock down that penalty kill which the Rampage have ravaged at every turn (both against OKC and in the first round Chicago matchup). Both teams remain quietly disciplined, not suffering too many penalties, but it seems that the Rampage capitalize more when given the opportunity. In basketball, foul trouble early is the death sentence for teams that play solid free throwing opponents - same goes for postseason minor league hockey; if you give too many penalties away you'll get stung. And the Rampage have stung with regularity, with a 38.7% success rate on the power play (first in the AHL in the postseason). That number is staggering considering how strong the Barons penalty kill has been for most of the season. And this is where game three is won or lost for the Oklahoma City squad. The team will need to find an answer for Jon Matsumoto and Bill Thomas who have combined for 53 shots in 7 postseason games, and continue to pepper Yann Danis constantly.

And speaking of Yann, he's had a rough go of it lately. He's given up 14 postseason goals, and as of last game is now under .900 SV% for the first time all season. Regardless of the defense in front of him -- how good they play or not -- he needs to be better. The system revolves around him being good late, and with a potent offensive team in San Antonio, he needs to steal the show.

Tune in to the game tonight at 7:00pm Central Time. You can listen via 96.1 KXXY on your radio dial or via iHeartRadio. You can also check out the SportsJuice.com stream.

Likely starting lineup goes unchanged for tonight:

Magnus Paajarvi-Josh Green-Teemu Hartikainen
Antti Tyrvainen-Mark Arcobello-Tyler Pitlick
Philippe Cornet-Anton Lander-Ryan Keller
Triston Grant-Chris VandeVelde-Tanner House
Dan Ringwald-Bryan Helmer
Bryan Rodney-Taylor Chorney
Dylan Yeo-Alex Plante
Scratches: Martin Marincin, Colten Teubert, Tyler Bunz, Kirill Tulupov, Curtis Hamilton, Andrew Lord, Ryan Martindale, Kevin Montgomery, Hunter Tremblay

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