24 hours prior to facing the Chicago Wolves, the Oklahoma City Barons made a resounding statement when they beat the West leading Texas Stars. That game was wonderful in the final moments, and rare, as the team spun around a 2-0 deficit that lasted nearly forty minutes to eventually win 3-2.
On that same night, the Houston Aeros made chop suey out of the Chicago Wolves, with a huge second period en route to a 5-2 victory.
Briefly it appeared that fate hate struck a fancy with the Barons, and they’d pull away from those Wolves in a bare knuckled brawl race to the playoff spots. Fate, found a new suitor.
The Chicago Wolves would defeat the Oklahoma City Barons on Saturday night with a fantastic night from goaltender Matt Climie, a pair of goals from some defensemen, and an empty netter. A 3-0 shutout loss for OKC was not what the doctor ordered, nor what he/she prescribed.
In the first period the Barons would need to play consistent hockey. Which sounds fine and dandy, but consistently awful hockey is not, and that’s what OKC did. Niko Hovinen gets the “meat” portion of the weekend starts with Danis likely earning the “bun”, and he’d give up the first Wolves goal of the game in the first ninety seconds. A goal by defenseman, Danny Groulx, put Chi up really early. Ten minutes later former Oiler, Jim Vandemeer netted the second of the game for the visiting team to put the Barons in a two goal deficit for the second time in consecutive nights.
For the remainder of the final two periods, the Barons would really push hard. Teemu Hartikianen, in particular, had some man-sized opportunities, as did Antti Tyrvainen deep in the lineup. Eventually the team would take 31 total shots, have nothing to show for it, and finally give up an empty netter with a two man advantage to end the game. The bad luck that OKC seemed to own on Saturday night was named Matt Climie (with his sixth shutout of the year). Likewise, the Wolves stitched up their penalty killing, keeping the Barons away for three attempts on the night.
The Oklahoma City Barons would be shutout by the Chicago Wolves, 3-0. The same two will play on Sunday afternoon, and the Barons really can’t afford to lose another one in a head-to-head contest against the Wolves. The need for quality shot taking, good goaltending, and perhaps quicker defensive puck movement are in order. It will be a game that reflects the survival skills of the fittest. Fingers crossed.
The Barons only committed one infraction all night (Taylor Fedun, Hooking, 1st period), and that’s good. Few penalties, especially when the game switched from a one goal lead to a two goal lead might point to a bit of cautious play for the bulk of the game. As fans, we always complain when our team takes a ton of penalties, but this is the rare exception where being a bit more “chancy” might have paid off. Nonetheless, keeping the Wolves off the power play was smart. Hard to argue that.
The Wolves matchup really well with the Barons, probably because they are two very similar teams. Good goaltending seems to be the one piece that puts one team over the other. And Saturday it swung in the favor of Climie. Niko wasn’t terrible, and like Danis, is want to struggle early. Don’t expect Hovinen again on Sunday, it’s Danis’ to win.
The Barons remain in sixth place team in the West and two spots deep in to the playoffs. But before you celebrate, a few thoughts. Technically tied with Rochester, but securing the sixth spot because they’ve played fewer games. With 78 points, there are four teams at least within three points of them – Rochester, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Rockford. That means every single game is a must win at this point. And it seems that this weekend is as critical as they come. However, in the end, I believe the West is won with the final weekend of the year. And that’s going to be a nail-biter of a situation for everyone. Get your Maalox in now.
Round two today against the Chicago Wolves is at 4pm CST. GO BARONS!