After a complete undressing of a team that looked superior only two games prior, the Oklahoma City Barons unfurled another night of impressive scoring, and semi-perfect defense. There weren’t eight goals scored by the Barons, but six would suffice, as they’d wallop the Checkers for the second straight night. This time in game five with a final score of 6-2.
Much like the night before, the Barons were in a must-win situation. Not unlike the night before, Charlotte was in the same boat. The storyline from day one of this quarterfinal matchup has been, “What is Charlotte going to do in net?”. For the most part that question was answered with two words, Rob and Madore, who really hasn’t been that bad for much of the post season (last night excluded, obviously). It seemed, though, that OKC might have cracked the door just a bit on Friday, and exposed enough of Madore’s tendencies to have figured out the thirty year old Pittsburgh native. That proved to be true. Mechanically speaking, Madore had become predictable. While most goaltenders can overcome this predictability with speed, he just isn’t built that way. Saturday night the Barons were hitting him high, and in awkward positions. Thus leading me to the conclusion that if that were Justin Peters in net for Charlotte, this series might have swung the other direction.
That wasn’t the case, and the rosters that both teams had to deal with scored at a pretty good clip. Oklahoma City just scored more, and at the right moment.
The first period of Saturday’s game was teetering towards Charlotte domination. They’d end the first twenty minutes with 21 shots on Yann Danis, two of which would eventually go in. But sandwiched inside goals by Riley Nash (thanks to a terrible pass by Andrew Hotham) and Bobby Raymond were two care of Jonathan Cheechoo and Anton Lander. Cheechoo’s came when he simply parked himself in front of the net, and jabbed away at the puck until it went in. Lander’s was a bit more graceful when Teemu Hartikainen laid out a perfect pass to the streaking Anton on the wing. However, the period would end with both teams owning two goals, and a bit of uncertainty from fans as to whom might break free from the deadlock.
Quickly Oklahoma City pounced on Rob Madore and the seemingly stuck-in-the-mud legs of the Charlotte defense. Near the nine minute mark, Teemu Hartikainen notched his third goal of the postseason, and put his team back in front. Less than two minutes later, captain Josh Green would increase the lead by two on his own third goal of the postseason. Further stretching the lead was youngster Toni Rajala with the fifth goal of the evening from OKC, when he whizzed the puck around the Charlotte goaltender who at that time was now the in relief John Muse. The third period would arrive with the Barons on top 5-2.
Yann Danis owned the third period. Another nineteen shots were deflected, and he’d all but continue to seal the victory. When the Barons defense, now featuring Andrew Hotham paired with Randy Jones, got sideways, he was there. When the puck was rushed up the ice, and Brandon Davidson was incapable of thwarting it, he was there. When the dust settled, Yann became the post season league leader in saves with a whopping 157 in only five games. The other interesting stat is that he allowed only one less goal than Charlotte’s Rob Madore, who saw his minutes go down when he was pulled twice (games four and five). You can see the value in a goaltender like Yann, if only for a postseason run. When Andrew Hotham made good on an empty netter, the horn sounded, and the fans hit the exits, the Oklahoma City Barons had defeated the Charlotte Checkers, 6-2. They also won a trip to Cedar Park, Texas to face the all-too-familiar Texas Stars in the West Semis.
Colten Teubert, who was scratched for the second straight night, was replaced by Andrew Hotham in the lineup alongside Randy Jones. Todd Nelson apparently didn’t like what he saw from CT, and neither did most of us. Hotham, instead, would give a bit more of a puck moving mentality to the 5/6 defensive pairing. Tonight, it almost back-fired as Hotham would give up the earliest goal of the game in the worst way, but he ultimately steadied himself. With Texas on the horizon, you’d have to imagine that the Barons will need to get muscly. The Stars are slick offensively and solid defensively. They weren’t the best team in the West going into the playoffs for nothing. What do the defensive pairings look like when the semifinals begin? Worth watching.
The offensive lines went untouched as well. I’ll single out Josh Green for just a bit because I feel like he’s doing some small things really well. Nine points in five games leads the AHL Calder Cup postseason. Three goals and six helpers means that he’s an offensive threat again, and we’ve not seen that for much of the season. Peaking at this moment in time, with linemates C.J. Stretch and Tyler Pitlick, is going to be huge moving forward. He needs to keep that pace as much as he can. Good on him thus far.
Yann Danis is good.
Four of the top six points scorers in the league right now are on the Oklahoma City Barons. This surprises me, but then again that’s what scoring eight goals in one game will do for your moxy. Approve.
Here’s the schedule for upcoming games against Texas (best of seven):
Game 1 May 9 Oklahoma City @ Texas 7:30 p.m.
Game 4 May 11 Oklahoma City @ Texas 7:30 p.m.
Game 3 May 13 Texas @ Oklahoma City 7 p.m.
Game 4 May 15 Texas @ Oklahoma City 7 p.m.
*Game 5 May 16 Texas @ Oklahoma City 7 p.m.
*Game 6 May 20 Oklahoma City @ Texas 7:30 p.m.
*Game 7 May 21 Oklahoma City @ Texas 7:30 p.m.
* if necessary all times listed as CDT
Series opens Thursday in Cedar Park, with another game being played south on Saturday. The Barons get the dreaded weekday run with games on Monday (ouch), Wednesday (ouch), and Thursday. But here’s the glimmer of hope – the games don’t start until Thursday, and they are played later in the evening. I think this is going to be an interesting series because travel, albeit a fairly long distance, is much more kind on both teams. A best of seven against Oklahoma and Texas is just what the AHL gods ordered.