‘Tis a glorious thing to behold, a team that can challenge opponents deep into games. That has been the case for much of the 2014-15 season, and now, suddenly, those moments include the Calder Cup postseason.
Last night, with the Rampage facing elimination, the Oklahoma City Barons won game three in overtime and have advanced to the Western Conference semi-finals.
Can we do this in reverse, Memento style?
Jujhar Khaira was injured in a game in early March when he was plastered into the corners allowing his elbow to soften the blow against the boards. Bad idea. Mid-Spring Break coach Gerry Fleming deemed Khaira a loss for the remainder of the season following that specific injury. The bummer of a sigh from fans in OKC was full and deep. We thought we had seen the last of young Jujhar, with whom we had high hopes.
Five minutes into game three’s overtime, Jujhar Khaira would knock in a rebound to defeat the Rampage who were up against a wall. The sweep was complete, but a bit of redemption was in store for Khaira who had both returned to action after a time away and scored his first postseason goal as a professional. Well done.
Prior to this wondrous moment in time, the Rampage evened the game with :58 remaining. Tom Rowe brilliantly waited until the on-ice matchups were to his liking, and he motioned for Dan Ellis to scamper to the bench. When he did, the Barons were unable to re-group as they fought hard against the onslaught of offense that finally emerged from the San Antonio forwards. Up a skater, Dylan Olsen would invigorate his team, and those fans in attendance, as the game would slowly creep towards sudden death overtime at one goal from each squad.
It was young Kellen Jones who scored the games opening goal after nearly forty minutes of scoreless hockey. Kellen, and his brother Connor, have now accounted for a combined three goals in only nine official shots on net. Love those two. (Prep your #MCM folks).
The struggle was real for the Rampage whom have dominated offensively for much of the season. Hate to grandstand here just a bit, but the game two loss seemed debilitating in some regards as the offense struggled to beat starting goaltender Richard Bachman.
By comparison, Dan Ellis did a terrific job fighting off Barons goal scorers for much of the game, and his work should not go unrecognized. He was sensational.
But let’s return to Bachman, who was good from the start, but magical in the third period where he faced 19 shots and only let in one (that :58 barn burning equalizer).
The steadiness he gave the team in game two carried over to game three where he played out-of-his-mind minutes against a team desperate to stay alive.
In all, it was a terrific performance by the Barons if not (again and again and again) a lucky victory. I think maybe I will stop calling these wins lucky because they happen far too often. Instead I will congratulate Gerry Fleming and the coaching staff for shoehorning Khaira into the lineup (on the fourth line), and offering three speedy lines who would carry the weight of the minutes. And defensively, there were minor issues, but what a “trap and sack” game the blue line played keeping the play in front of them as much as possible. When they did make mistakes, Bachman bailed them out, and this team continues to get better as the postseason marches on.
The game, in a nutshell, was one for the ages. On the other hand, the Rampage have toppled greatly having lost now six in a row after having a streak that featured nine wins in ten games. Ouch.
Their undoing has been nothing short of baffling. Yet the Barons took advantage of the opportunity, and seem like world-beaters at least for another week.
If things hold – Utica and Toronto win – the Rockford IceHogs will face the Barons in a seven game series. The IceHogs, also earning a sweep of their own, but against the reigning champs in Texas, are a quick, stout, impressive squad in the same vein as the Rampage. But whomever the opponent, the games will be worth watching.
Oklahoma City Barons Lineup:
R. Hamilton-Williams-C. Hamilton
K. Jones-C. Jones-Ford
Scratches: Betker, Pageau, Houck, Pinizzotto, Platzer, Ewanyk, Kessy, Ludwig, Chase, LaLeggia, Schaber, Yakimov, Gernat, Lain
Available Goaltenders: Rimmer