Game five. At home. A chance to clinch a spot in the Western Conference Finals for a second straight season.
Knowing those things, it’s quite remarkable what happened in the Cox Center on Thursday night. The Oklahoma City Barons would score five straight goals to dominate the number one seed (West) in the Calder Cup playoffs, and leave the ice with another trip to the West Finals to face either the Toronto Marlies or the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Absolutely incredible is the only way I can explain what the Barons have done in the past week. Three straight victories against a very good Texas Stars hockey team with great coaching, sharp young forwards, solid defensive posturing, and first-round-other-worldly goaltending. To knock out that team in only five games, out score them 16-4 in the final three, and continue a run that has surprised so many, again, is absolutely incredible.
An unchanged lineup for OKC against a slightly tweaked one for Texas put the teams into a first period that resembled every first period in the four games prior. Tight, headstrong, blue line aware, and let’s be honest, slightly favoring the Stars. Two power play chances for each team (Tyrvainen with a dive & delay of game in one period) went unrewarded. It took Teemu Hartikainen seventeen minutes to score the first goal of the game. In a scrum along the boards, Toni Rajala somehow emerged with the puck and let go of a pass that hit the centered-on-net Hartikainen. 1-0, OKC after the first twenty minutes of play.
In the opening minutes of the second period Taylor Fedun pulled a Justin Schultz on the rush, and asserted himself into a play that began with a Jonathan Cheechoo puck steal, and ended with a Fedun goal and an OKC Barons 2-0 lead. C.J. Stretch added to the total when Toni Rajala capitalized on a horrific Stars turnover, and magnificently centered the puck on net. Stretch knocked it in, and OKC would advance the lead to three goals. A mid-period Tyler Pitlick boarding penalty was the only infraction for OKC in the period, and it was killed quickly. The home team takes a commanding 3-0 lead after two.
Jordie Benn gave us the third delay of game penalty in the game, and it put the Stars on the kill to begin the third period. With Mark Arcobello quarterbacking the power play, former Star, Garrett Stafford scored a goal, giving the Barons a 4-0 lead. Arcobello would get a goal of his own toward the middle of the third, his ninth of the postseason, and the Barons nailed the coffin shut on the Stars. A late Ben Eager interference call would cost Danis the shutout, as the Stars scored on the power play with roughly three minutes remaining in the game.
A 5-1 victory of dominant proportions has propelled the Barons into the West Finals for the second straight season. They await the winner of the Griffins and Marlies seminal, which currently is 2-1 Grand Rapids.
Well done, OKC. More thoughts on the series as a whole in the coming days.