It was the type of game that no one saw coming. We all knew it was possible, but no one expected it. With the season series being a typically low-scoring, but offensively scintillating endeavor, the first game of the San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City Western Conference semi-finals was an offensive battle from the drop of the puck.
There's no denying that both teams are solidly stacked defensively, and both have the goal-tending goods to further barricade the net.. But when the horn sounded for the end of period three there were 10 goals scored including three on the power play.
In front of a 2833 people on a Thursday night in Oklahoma City, the San Antonio Rampage defeated the Barons in a wildly entertaining game, albeit in a 6-4 losing endeavor for OKC.
Things began as expected in this one. The first five minutes of period one were a "feeling out" type of chess match by both coaches and players. As the two teams guaged the line matchups, it seemed that early on this one would be quick and spirited. The early statement from San Antonio came from newcomer Quinton Howden, recently signed after playing in Moose Jaw, nearly beats Danis. Moments later Drew Shore goes stick side on Danis, and solidly nails the post. On the other end of the ice, Josh Green had two really strong chances to score in front of starting Rampage goaltender Jacob Markstrom. And from that point forward it was like a ping-pong match. One great scoring threat after another.
The Barons opened the scoring first when Tyler Pitlick drove hard to the net, bumfuzzled Markstrom temporarily, which cleared a shooting lane for Hunter Tremblay who whistled a puck towards the net. The shot was deflected by a Rampage defender and ended up in the net.
The Barons would again score moments later after a Rampage interferance penalty. Philippe Cornet drove the puck hard on the wing, sliced towards the net, and left the puck to be played by Arcobello who squeezed it in just over the top of Markstrom's shoulder. 2-0 Barons.
Then the Rampage roared back with a power play of their own. Dan Ringwald suffered a silly hook which led to a heavy shot by defenseman Alex Petrovic.
The Barons continued to fight to stretch the lead in the second period. Josh Green beautifully wrapped his stick around the back of the net, and bumped the puck off the goaltenders heel. Barons suddenly with a healthy lead at 3-1 to start the 2nd period.
But Mark Cullen wins a face-off in the Barons zone, the OKC defense stands and watches, Cullen wheels in on Danis and scores high glove side. Now 3-2 Barons.
The final goal by the Barons would be scored by Teemu Hartikainen with a quick shot from the slot after some dazzling passing by Magnus Paajarvi. With a 4-2 lead, the Oklahoma City Barons would give up 4 straight goals in the final 32 minutes of play as the fade reared it's ugly head.
Whether it was Bill Thomas picking up his own rebound (3-4), Tyson Strachan whizzing shots through traffic (4-4), Michael Caruso faking a shot, then delivering the goods (5-4), or Jon Matsumoto playing the boards well before riffling towards the net (6-4), it was all Rampage the second half of the game.
The Barons lost simply because they stopped playing aggressive hockey. And this has been the downside to such a fantastic team for most of the regular season. They have so much offensive firepower, that sometimes they become content with settling in to the game. They have a tendency to be overly cautious with a lead, let Danis and the defense protect the puck and seal the deal. But as we see in this four goal swing by the Rampage, in the postseason you can't do those types of things.
Indeed, it was frustrating from an Oklahoma City perspective. And it's hard to not blame the coaching staff just a little when the team begins to fade. You can usually sense its arrival but it usually only lasts about 8-10 minutes instead of the final half of the game.
So the Barons lose the opening game of round two after giving up four straight goals. Lots of positives in this game, but the glarring four goal swing that was on display is too hard to overlook. Game number two is Saturday night, and here's hoping that the fade stays away or at least only lasts a few minutes.