OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The Oklahoma City Barons have been pushed to the brink of elimination.
Tomas Jurco, Mitch Callahan and Tomas Tatar each scored in the final five minutes of the second period Sunday afternoon, driving the Grand Rapids Griffins to a 3-0 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.
The Barons have now lost consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 13 (vs. Texas) and Jan. 18 (vs. San Antonio).
Trailing the series three games to two, Game 6 will be played on Tuesday night, on the road, at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.
Recording his second shutout in as many nights, Petr Mrazek stopped all 37 shots he faced. The rookie netminder has not allowed a goal in over 163 minutes, a stretch dating back to the 16:35 mark of Game 3.
Mrazek now has a 1.40 goals-against average and .960 save percentage in the series.
"He's played extremely well," said Head Coach Todd Nelson. "But at the same time, I don't think we're making it as tough on him as we should. We've got to bury our chances. We had plenty of opportunities tonight, but it's a lack of execution right now. We fanned on pucks, we had open nets that we didn't capitalize on.
"We have to bury the opportunities that we do get.
"The bottom line is, in order to win a hockey game, you've got to score a goal and we haven't been doing that."
Coming into the series, the Barons led the American Hockey League in post-season scoring with 42 goals in 10 games. Where has all the offence gone?
"If (Mrazek) sees it, he's going to stop it," said Philippe Cornet, who was the last to beat Mrazek back in Game 3. "We're making it easy on him. We've got to get in front, get him to cough up some rebounds and get some greasy goals."
"A lot of the shots we got off today, it seemed like we were hitting him in the chest," added Taylor Fedun. "We need to shoot for the corners. His positioning is good, but we've got to make him work a little harder."
Needing back-to-back wins to advance to the Calder Cup Final, the Barons are left to draw on past experiences. OKC rattled off consecutive wins when facing elimination back in Round 1 against the Charlotte Checkers.
They believe they can do it again.
"We've always done it the hard way. All year. Why stop now?" said Nelson.
The Barons led 10-5 in shots after one period of play, the game remained in a scoreless tie.
Both teams pressed for the icebreaker, but it was the Griffins who got the best of the scoring chances early on.
With Martin Marincin caught flat-footed at the offensive blue line, newcomer Gustav Nyquist turned it back the other way. On the ensuing 2-on-1, however, some sensational stick work by Taylor Fedun broke up the play altogether.
Marincin's gaffe forced Todd Nelson to shortened his bench on the back end. With Nyquist and Joakim Andersson buzzing early on, Fedun, Brandon Davidson and Garrett Stafford were given the bulk of the workload.
"They're doing well against them," said Nelson. "They're going to get their opportunities because they're that good and that dynamic, but they're containing them well and that has to continue. I like that the way that they match up against them."
Just over a minute into the second, Fedun and Chris VandeVelde doubled-teamed Nyquist in the neutral zone, sending the sniper to the ice and in need of medical attention. He got up and skated off to the dressing room under his own power, returning to the game after a stoppage with 12:45 remaining.
As Stafford stepped up in neutral ice, the visitors countered with yet another odd-man rush the other way. Just as he has all series, Davidson came up with an exceptional play to block the cross-ice pass and nullify the scoring chance.
Late in the period, Ryan Martindale and Landon Ferraro had a spirited scrap that lifted the spirits of both benches, but it was the visitors who took advantage.
Pickpocketing Andrew Hotham in the neutral zone and charging back on a breakaway, Jurco executed a backhand-forehand deke to perfection, slipping a shot past Danis for the goal.
The Barons were put back on the power-play late in the second period, but a lack of urgency and some miscommunication in their own end proved costly. Redirecting Andersson's pinpoint slap pass at the doorstep, an untouched Callahan gave the Griffins a 2-0 lead on what the coach described as an "unacceptable" play.
Walking in to the top of the far faceoff circle, Tatar scored a power-play goal at 19:27, gunning a wicked wrist shot past Danis on the Griffins' 19th shot.
"We overreacted," said Nelson. "You can't leave a guy like Tatar alone walking down the pipe. He's going to bury that.
"I thought we played hard, we played desperate, but we beat ourselves. When you look at all the goals they scored, they could have been prevented."
The Barons held a slim 22-19 advantage in shots after 40 minutes and continued to pepper Mrazek with 17 more in the third, but it wasn't enough.
"We wish we would have gotten one more (win) here, but we've won in Grand Rapids before," said VandeVelde. "We're going to go in there, play two strong games and play our best.
"We have nothing to lose."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick
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