After the Barons scored their first goal of the evening, I tweeted something to the effect of “I know they are nursing a small lead, but this feels like one they could squander.” And if Friday’s third period had been five minutes longer, the Barons might have squandered more than just a one goal lead. They could have lost a game after leading by three goals.
But the hockey gods intervened and the Barons held on to beat the Houston Aeros on home ice, 4-3. Goals by Toni Rajala, Philippe Cornet, Curtis Hamilton, and Jonathan Cheechoo got the job done.
The first period was a tame one for both clubs. A Jonathan Cheechoo high stick gave the Aeros a two minute man advantage that was ugly from the first second (Houston has scored only one PP goal in the last 41 chances to that point). And the Barons had a few great chances and smart play by the “heavy” line of Darcy Hordichuk, Tanner House, and Erick Lizon. The Barons would get a full power play chance, would have one good scoring opportunity, and squander the rest of the time. The period as a whole was timid and overly cautious. But as the first twenty ended, the Barons started to grind the gears a little quicker. Philippe Cornet gets roughed up just enough by yeoman defenseman, Paul Mara, and OKC went on the PP to end the period. 0-0 after one.
The Oklahoma City Barons would dominate the puck in the second period, and rattle off three straight goals from young prospects. First was a great right face-off circle shot by Toni Rajala on a power play setup by defenseman Brett Clark. The Barons take an early period 1-0 lead. With many chances in between, the Barons would not score again until the later portions of the second period. Taylor Fedun, with a solid hit in the Barons end, forced the puck to be rushed the other direction. Philippe Cornet takes the puck across the blue line and unleashes a deadly accurate shot beating Matt Hackett. The Barons take a 2-0 lead. Moments later, following the center ice face off, the Barons ran a quick forecheck, the puck squirts out, and Curtis Hamilton spun off a fantastic long distance shot putting OKC up 3-0. The period would end with Houston only taking six shots, and the Barons dominating two straight periods of play.
The third period was a full on assault and momentum swing by the Aeros. David McIntyre scored early for the Aeros, but Jonathan Cheechoo (with two assists up until that point) nailed a point blank shot that put the Barons back up by three goals. Then Houston scored two straight as the period wore on. Journeyman, Paul Mara followed by another by David McIntyre in the waning minutes inched Houston back within one. But the horn ended their push, and the Barons survived the third period. It’s a good thing that Houston started slow because they were mounting a comeback that was just a tad too late.
Both teams meet again this evening in Houston in what will likely be a packed house. Will the momentum carry over for the Aeros? For the Barons benefit, you certainly hope not.