What a difference two games and a change of scenery makes. The San Antonio Rampage and Oklahoma City Barons usually play low scoring, low shooting, and last minute winning types of games -- or at least they have for the better part of two regular seasons. So the first two games of the Western Semi's of the Calder Cup were an anomaly. And as is so typical in playoff hockey, at just about every level, predicting a games outcome is an exercise in stupidity. And the Barons and Rampage did just that in game three as the Oklahoma City Barons score in the first 90 seconds of the game, and didn't score again until the Chris Vande Velde overtime high wobbler.
With the first two games now a distant, but exciting memory, the Barons travelled to San Antonio for the first of three consecutive games. And the wildly entertaining offenses we saw in Oklahoma City from both squads, were put on hold slightly as the defense and goaltending took control.
At the 1:18 mark of the first period, Anton Lander took a strong whack at a bouncy puck that the Rampage defenders couldn't handle and scored the first goal of the game as the Barons take a super early lead. The Barons continued to dominate the first period as the Rampage seemed a bit stagnant.
As period two began, both teams evened out and the play quickened. However, it was clear that it wasn't going to be a ping-pong game, as both teams had flashes of scoring chances, but not in great bunches. Yann Danis and Jacob Markstrom put on a great show of agility and solid glovework as the second period grinded to a halt with the Baron still on top 1-0.
The good news for OKC, up until this point, was that they were able to kill off two penalties in the first two periods of play. The Rampage were deadly in the previous two games, but were tamed by the Barons kill, partly due to the return of the one-game-injured Hunter Tremblay.
Period three was anything but a tightening-up situation by the Barons. They knew that even with a one goal lead, the third period was likely going to be a frenzied finish. The Rampage buckled down, and drew two key penalties in the third period. The first being a VandeVelde slash that ended in a James Wright power play goal for San Antonio. The second came at 16:09 of the third by Antti Tyrvainen, but this time the team (and Danis) killed the penalty. Time expired, and the Rampage and Barons were staring at another game that would be ended in sudden death.
Both teams came out hard in the extra period, but it almost ended in ruin for the Barons as Teemu Hartikainen was tagged with a ticky-tack goaltender interference call that put the Rampage at the man advantage. Fans, coaches, players -- all held their breath -- then the penalty ended still tied at one all.
Nearly three and a half minutes later, the Rampage over exerted themselves trying to push the puck up the ice. The puck ended up rebounding the other direction, two Rampage defenders collided with each other, nullified their defensive posture, and Chris VandeVelde rifled a high, wobbly shot over the shoulder of Jacob Markstrom. The Barons win another overtime thriller, this time on away ice, 2-1. Ironically, the series is now 2-1 -- advantage Barons.
How bittersweet it was to have C Double V's score the game winner after a stupid slashing penalty that tied the game halfway through the third. Rarely does a player like VandeVelde get that opportunity given both A) his role on the team as a deep line closer and B) because he isn't a naturally gifted scorer. But as if Moses was parting the Red Sea, the two Rampage defenders bumped each other off, the lanes parted, and Chris found a seam. And at the perfect time nonetheless.
Hunter Tremblay was back in the lineup, and instantly the PK looked better than it did without him in it only a game prior. I know he's off the Oilers radar, but the rookie continues to have a sensational season. Keep an eye on this kid.
Tyler Pitlick, another Barons rookie, continues to dazzle as well. From hard hits on the boards in OT that resulted in turnovers, to playing the third wheel on the 1-3-1 power play -- he's hard not to love.
Defense was good, but not quite perfect. And in this particular game it didn't have to be. However, Dan Ringwald and Bryan Helmer moved the puck beautifully in this one. Between the two, only three passes (to my eye) went awry. Most being of the instructional, tape-to-tape variety. And Ringwald probably has earned himself an AHL contract with the Barons next season.
Keeping the Rampage at 1 for 5 with an extra attacker is a quiet victory in and of itself. On the other side, the Barons continue to struggle on their own power play and went 0 for 4 on the night. Two things for the coaching staff to consider. The 1-3-1 unit can score, but it lacks creativity. Lots of play to the left side, which has been Markstrom's better goaltending area, as opposed to the right where Paajarvi has some speed and hands. Bryan Rodney, quarterbacking that 1-3-1, doesn't press the puck towards the net to entice defenders to move from their position. Instead he's content with shuffling passes to the wings, and letting them move the puck in deep. I'd like to see someone else play that point man role. A guy like Dylan Yeo, who is great with the puck, but also dangerous at a distance with a heavy shot, might be one to consider.
Yann Danis was really good in net, but Jacob Markstrom was phantasmagoric. Facing nearly 40 shots, he really kept his club in the game. His defenders in front? Sometimes useless.
Game number four won't take place until Thursday, so we wait, wonder, visit the River Walk, eat some REAL Mexican food, ignore that the Spurs are a good team (shoutout to the OKC Thunder readers), and prepare for a 7pm puck drop again in San Antonio.