OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - In a series billed as a goaltending battle, Petr Mrazek has regained the upper hand.
The 21-year-old stopped all 40 shots he faced Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center, earning his third shutout of the post-season and vaulting the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 3-0 victory over the Oklahoma City Barons.
Joakim Andersson, Riley Sheahan, Landon Ferraro and Jan Mursak (empty net) provided the offence.
Tied 2-2, the Western Conference Final is now a Best of 3 and a trip back to Grand Rapids for Game 6 (and potentially Game 7) is guaranteed.
"We knew this was a big game," said defenceman Brandon Davidson who, once again, had a strong night on the back end. "It was very important to us to get off to a good start because they had the new additions (Nyquist and Andersson) to the lineup. We knew it wasn't going to be easy. It's definitely not the effort we wanted. But we've got to forget about it and move on to tomorrow night where we need better results."
"I have a feeling the series is going to go the distance," added Head Coach Todd Nelson. "We have two strong teams going at it and we play very similar. It's going to be a battle, that's for sure. I thought as the game went on we got stronger, so if we can carry that over to the game tomorrow, we'll be fine."
"We have to make sure we get off to a good start tomorrow"
The Barons led 14-13 in shots after one period of play, but were trailing 1-0 where it counted. Penalties to Francis Pare (high-sticking), Luke Glendening (hooking) and Tomas Tatar (interference), gave OKC three separate power-play chances, but Mrazek stood tall in thwarting them all.
"We quantity, but I didn't think we had a lot of quality in our shots," said Barons captain Josh Green, who recorded one shot on goal in the loss. "We had 40 shots, but I thought it an easy night for (Mrazek). We had plenty from the outside and he saw pretty much everything. We didn't have a lot of second-chance opportunities, either. If we're going to move on in this series, we've got to do better at battling for position in front and getting those second opportunities.
The Barons have now only converted on one of 15 power-play chances is series. Coming in, it was operating at an 18.6 percent clip in the post-season.
"We're getting frustrated at times and I think we're deviating a little from what (Nelson) wants us to do," said Green. "We've got to stick to the system. Right now we're not doing well at bringing pucks into the zone, so we need to come in more organized and know what we're doing."
On the power-play at the other end, success was immediate.
Cashing on their only power-play chance of the period, the Griffins took a 1-0 lead at 12:08 as the newcomer, Andersson, slipped a shot through the wickets of Yann Danis.
Danis made 29 saves on the night.
Fellow Red Wing-turned-Griffin, Nyquist, picked up the assist. Both players were assigned to Grand Rapids after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs earlier this week.
"They were good, especially on the power-play," said. "They're pretty dynamic players and they got us running around on that kill. I thought 5-on-5 we were OK against them, but we've got to make sure we're containing them. They're tough to shut down completely, but we've got to be physical on them and play them hard."
"I felt that they played an all-around better game," added Davidson. "You can notice those guys and they made their team better, but as a group, their team gave a better effort than they did last time.
"Tomorrow's another game for us."
Just 1:57 into the second period, the visitors extended a 2-0 lead. On a bit of a broken play in the low slot, Sheahan pounced on a loose puck and snapped a shot up and over the goaltender's left shoulder.
As part of a 9-3 run in shots (equaling their total output in each of the past two games) to begin the period, Danis was sensational but could only stem the tide for so long.
Meeting a pinpoint diagonal pass from Chad Billins during some 4-on-4 action, Ferraro neatly redirected his fourth of the post-season past Danis at 8:25, giving the Griffins a commanding 3-0 lead that the Barons were unable to rally back from.
Late in the period, Antti Tyrvainen leveled the goal-scorer with a mammoth hit at the blue line. Mitch Callahan came to his teammate's defence, spiritedly scrapping with the Baron and earning the usual 2+5+10 for instigating.
Just eight seconds into the ensuing power-play, the Barons appeared to cut into the lead, but it was ruled that CJ Stretch had kicked the puck into the net.
Possessing a slim edge in shots (27-25), the Griffins continued to lead 3-0 after 40 minutes. The Barons outshot the Griffins 15-5 in the third, but it was too little, too late.
An empty-net goal by Jan Mursak sealed their fate.
"We played with some desperation in the third, but we have to play with some desperation right from the start," said Nelson. "They were the desperate team tonight and it showed.
"They're a good hockey team."
"We'll go over things here tonight and make sure we dissect everything," added Davidson. "The bottom line is, we need a better effort. We know how we can play and that wasn't it."
Game 5 of the Western Conference Final goes tomorrow afternoon at 3:00p.m. MT.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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