Photo by Steven Christy
The dust has settled on two games in Abbotsford (the final two road games of the season) for the Oklahoma City Barons, and somehow the team finds itself back where it started. Snuggled up to the 8th seed in the West, the final playoff spot, OKC has full control of their own destiny at this point. Wins still need to happen, but the teams chasing them have far more ground to cover and in fewer games.
Friday night in Abbotsford, the Oklahoma City Barons came out ready to fight, but were handcuffed to stout defensive puck moving by the Heat. Abbotsford, a notoriously disciplined team, gave up few chances inside the scoring box. This led to a rubber band effect that allowed the Heat to bounce back up the ice to put Richard Bachman in an uncomfortable position.
A two goal lead in the first six minutes of play for the Heat was never fully erased by the Barons despite an eventual two goals in the final forty minutes of play. Matt Ford and Taylor Fedun scored goals including the latter scoring within the final three minutes of the game to give his team a chance. In the end it was the 17% success rate on the power play that sullied any opportunity at making a comeback. The Barons would lose 3-2.
Sunday went very different early as the lone first period goal came from the Heat’s Brett Olson. Two goals a piece from each club, including a power play goal for OKC, gave the game a shiny new hue of fun. After forty minutes the score was 3-2 favoring the Heat. Austin Fyten tied the game just over the six minute mark of the final period to return the Barons to glory, but the Heat notched another on the power play following a Fyten slash (from good to goat in two minutes, ouch). Nursing a one goal deficit, Curtis Hamilton netted the equalizing goal with under three minutes remaining to breathe new life into the lungs. The fear of an OT turning in to a shootout came to fruition, but the Oklahoma City Barons wowed the masses by actually winning a shootout. Having lost nine skills comps all season, the remarkable finish was nothing short of a miracle. The Barons survived the 50/50 split in Abbotsford, and may have punched their dance card to the postseason.
So we turn our attention towards the Texas Stars on Wednesday, and Friday and Saturday regular season finales against the Iowa Wild.
Let’s take a look at the most recent lineups with a tad discussion.
Sunday night’s crew, with the Oilers call-ups now back with the Barons, is likely the lineup we see from here on out with one wrinkle – Ben Eager. Eager, welcoming a new baby to his clan, was absent from the roadtrip as a result. The final three games, he probably makes it back in. Surprisingly, that’s a good thing (maybe).
The addition of Ben Eager might squeeze Ewanyk out assuming that Nelson believes Khaira is a real integral part of the team’s success in the coming days. You will notice that Jujhar is the lone ATO that remained when the Oilers players were returned to OKC. That’s huge for the young center. It is also worth pointing out that Ewanyk, normally centering that fourth line, was moved to the wing. This has me believing that Lander-Stretch-Acton-Khaira are your centers in the upcoming three games. I could fuss a little and suggest that Jack Combs, a skillful forward, be added to the mix, but that likely won’t happen.
Nurse is playing entirely too high in the defensive pairs here, but he got better by game two in the Abbotsford series. Despite a wonky game for Gernat prior to the road swing, I think he is the better season ender defender than Nurse. BUT, like Khaira, he remains near the top because Nelson / MacT like his chances in the org’s future. Maybe that helps. Klefbom remains with Musil as a mighty tower, but you could easily see Nurse / Klefbom swapped if Darnell continues to struggle.
Bachman has had a good season, despite its ups and downs. He’s clearly your number one. If the Barons seal up a playoff spot with a game remaining, we will see Frans Tuohimma get a go, no doubt.
Texas is a +77 in the goal differential department. Oklahoma City is -18. The Barons will be the worse team in the differential stat bracket to make the playoffs which is a testimony to how far this young defensive core has come, and how the forwards have really needed to be better. Just a wild stat.
Texas, locked in at the number one spot in the West, will likely face-off against OKC in the first round. That’s always worth a watch. But remember, these are best-of-fives to begin with, and sometimes surviving that first round is more difficult than the best-of-sevens later in the Calder Cup. Regardless, we get a lovely first round preview (likely) with a slightly unfulfilled Stars roster whose parent club has made the playoffs. Should be an interesting tilt.
Then there’s Iowa who have struggled since the first puck drop of the season. 2-8-0-0 in their last ten including losses to Milwaukee, Rockford, and Chicago, teams really charging at the end of the season. But this is probably what makes them so deadly, and surely Todd Nelson realizes this. Overlooking a team like Iowa, if you lose to Texas, might be troubling.
Keep in mind that these two teams have played twice this season, and they split those games. Names like Rau, Zucker, Steckell, and Connelly are absent from their lineup, and that perhaps points to the chemical imbalance of the lineup. But Oklahoma City no longer has Omark, Nesbitt, or Jones (yes, that Jones) and so there team is a bit, how you say, different. Nonetheless, the Barons have got to bite down hard on the Wild.
Mark Arcobello bobble head night is Saturday, and it will have the word “SCRATCHED” etched on the bottom. I kid, but I do hope we see Mark in the playoffs, and we certainly have been given that notion.
Three is the magic number for Oklahoma City, and I fully believe in the Nelson machine at this point. I expect the Barons make the playoffs. You should to.
#justkeepwinning #justkeepwinning #justkeepwinning