On a ninety degree May evening in Oklahoma City, the Barons and the Stars played a hotly contested game three Calder Cup playoff match. The first two games were decided by a goal, and both came down to the final seconds whether it was in overtime or in regulation. The similarities between the two teams has made the first two games infinitely frustrating to watch, but equally as entertaining. The pull and tug on both sides of that rope have made for one dandy of a series thus far. Game three was likely to be no different.
However, in the end it was Oklahoma City that flexed its offensive muscle thanks to some untimely penalties from the Texas Stars, and a bit more pertinent game plan by the coaching staff led by Todd Nelson. The eventual 4-0 victory earned OKC the series lead, and a bit of swagger.
The first period was a solid ping-pong style opening frame. The maddening/entertaining scale was perfectly balanced, and it appeared that we’d get another close game. An early Taylor Fedun slashing call put the Stars on the power play, and the Barons on the kill. The newly added wrinkle to the lineup, Tanner House, proved immensely valuable on the second half of the penalty kill. From that point forward both teams played solid hockey, and both Yann Danis and Cristopher Nilstorp stood out from the pack. Eleven shots for OKC and eight for Texas just wasn’t enough to earn any goals, and the period would end with a 0-0 tie game.
As we moved to the second period, things slightly changed. Mostly the Barons became more aggressive with the puck. The stretch pass has become such a huge advantage to Oklahoma City. Simply put, they try to get a forward to cheat up ice, and ease around the defenders. A pass then goes the distance from zone to zone, and it causes heartburn for the opposition. And this worked very well in game three as the Barons forced the Stars to hold and cross-check their way through the second period. With a Jordie Benn holding penalty expiring, Toni Rajala would rifle a shot from a great distance, and it would end up beating Nilstorp for a 1-0 Barons lead. Seven minutes later, again with a power play chance, Anton Lander would wheel his fresh-off-the-bench legs in on Nilstorp and beat him high blocker side. The Barons ended the second period with a 2-0 lead.
More scoring from the Barons arrived when Mark Arcobello scored his third goal of the series in the first five minutes of the final period. Things got sticky as Garrett Stafford high-sticked the face of a Stars player, drawing blood, and thus earning a four minute minor. OKC calmly killed it with some help from Danis, and the period soldiered on. Andrew Hotham, with a late period slash, forced the home team to again kill a key penalty. They did. I smiled. The Barons scored an empty netter. Oklahoma City would close out the third game with a 4-0 victory. Rajala, Lander, Arcobello, and eventually C.J. Stretch would be your goal scorers, and the series now favors the Barons, 2-1.
Game four will arrive on Wednesday with the fifth game being Thursday. All should be worth the ticket price.
Tanner House was subtly fantastic this evening. So much so that you wonder why Darcy Hordichuk was playing in that fourth line winger role at all during the postseason. Coach Nelson made mention of Tanner’s role tonight, and it was really about versatility.
Tanner is a guy that can add some really good things to our special teams. He is also capable of playing in any of the three forward roles on the ice, so if we get into a bad penalty situation, he can help out.
Help out he did. A couple of helpers on scoring chances, some really nice puck play, and the added benefit of having his penalty kill skills gave the Barons an additional edge that had been absent in the previous two games. I’d surmise we see tonight’s lineup again in a couple of days.
It seems that with three games under their belts, the Barons have somewhat figured out Nilstorp. He doesn’t give up any rebounds, and he’s really strong with the glove. You beat him five hole and over the blocker. The Barons did that on both opening goals. That little attention to detail was the difference. Not to mention…
The Barons goaded the Stars into taking penalties, and it ultimately led to OKC obtaining a two goal lead. Some potentially unbalanced officiating cost the Stars one of those goals, but such is life (unfortunately).
Anton Lander and Tyler Pitlick were briefly absent from the Barons bench to end the first period. They returned, and obviously were huge in the latter parts of the game.
Official attendance was 1,794 but it’s Monday, with an Oklahoma City Thunder game on every available television in the city – I’d call that a success. Not great or good, but a success by AHL OKC postseason standards.