Barons clip Griffins, steal home ice advantage
The Western Conference Final now shifts to OKC for Games 3, 4 and 5.
|Photo by Mark Newman.
BARONS CLIP GRIFFINS
CJ Stretch, Teemu Hartikainen (2) and Mark Arcobello each scored, while Yann Danis made 20 saves as the Barons edged the Griffins 4-2, squaring the AHL Western Conference Final series at one game apiece.
The series now shifts to OKC for Games 3, 4 and 5 beginning on Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center.
"It was a great win for us," said Head Coach Todd Nelson. "It was the game that I was looking for. We wanted to get back to the way that we were playing against Texas. We didn't quite have that edge (Friday), but tonight we did. We played with a full 60-minute effort."
"It's a huge win for us," added Hartikainen, who's now collected six goals and 13 points this post-season. "Our goal was to win at least one game here and we've done that."
In a period largely controlled by the visitors, a late goal by Tomas Tatar gave Grand Rapids a 1-0 lead after one.
The Barons came out with the bite they were looking for, out-hitting the home side 13-4, but the execution was lacking. With less than three minutes to play in the period, Tatar pounced on an error by Andrew Hotham as the defenceman's outlet pass failed to connect with Philippe Cornet up in neutral ice.
Cruising back in transition, Tatar beat Danis clean with a blocker-side wrist shot, 14 inches above the ice, securing his ninth goal and 13th point of the playoffs.
Leading 12-6 in shots after 20, the Barons were in full control of the game but couldn't solve Griffins rookie Petr Mrazek.
Frustrating? Not according to the coach. His message to the group was simple: Stick with it.
"To be down 1-0, we faced a little bit of adversity -- but we've been doing that all year," said Nelson. "Our guys stuck to the game plan and good things happened."
Stretch made it a 1-1 game with a power-play goal at 6:48 of the second. Heeding their coach's message of getting shots through and sending bodies to the house, the 23-year-old scooped up a Josh Green rebound at the lip of the crease and swatted the puck into the empty cage behind Mrazek.
"We wanted to keep it simple," he said. "We were playing our game and it was working. We were trying to get pucks deep on their D and we knew we were going to wear them down sooner or later. They pushed back against us, but we wanted to keep working hard.
"We knew it was going to take a toll on them and it did."
Added Nelson: "It was a big power-play goal to begin with. We've been trying to get pucks through from the point and try to stretch them out. They're pretty aggressive if we try to work the puck down low. When we work a 3-on-2 up top, it creates an open shot.
"That's the way that we have to run our power-play against these guys. They're so aggressive and so effective down low."
Late in the period, Triston Grant smoked Antti Tyrvainen with a seismic open-ice hit, sending the Baron head over heels. Hotham was given a free shot in response, but Tyrvainen added took it too far and was promptly assessed a minor for slashing.
Emotions boiled over, resulting in additional penalties to Ben Eager and Brennan Evans, but nothing came of the ensuing Griffins power-play.
The game remained tied after two, but the deadlock only lasted the intermission.
Just 63 seconds into the third, the Barons grabbed their first lead of the series. Accepting a diagonal feed from Toni Rajala off the rush. Hartikainen launched a one-timer past Mrazek from the far faceoff circle.
"It was a good play," said the Finn. "He made a nice sauce pass to me and I shot it as hard as I could.
"I'm surprised the first two series' weren't quite as physical, but this was a really good playoff game. There was hitting, there was grinding and everything. When you get that, your adrenaline goes up. It's heavier, but at the same time you don't feel as tired as you normally do because you have that and you want to hit guys and drive the net. It comes natural to us as hockey players.
"And it's way more fun to play," he added with a laugh. "I like it."
The Griffins got it right back a little more than a minute later, however. Slipping behind the D on a bit of a broken play at the blue line, Mitch Callahan galloped in on a breakaway and tucked the puck past Danis for the equalizer.
With the pace opening up, the Barons restored the lead at 7:45. Arcobello cashed his AHL-leading 10th of the post-season as Cornet's centering pass bounced off Arcobello's face, over the head of Mrazek and across the line.
"Phil made a nice play off (Mrazek's) far pad. I whacked at it and the next thing I know it was up in the air, and I feel like I was the only one who saw it," said Arcobello. "It was in slow motion for me. We got a little bit of a lucky bounce, but we made our own luck by working hard. Our line deserved one there."
"It was an unconventional goal, but they all count," laughed Nelson.
The Griffins pulled Mrazek for an extra-attacker with 1:45 to play, but the Barons held court. Hartikainen sealed the deal with an empty-net goal to secure a 4-2 victory.
OKC outshot Grand Rapids 37-22 overall.
The Barons now have three days off before returning to action for Game 3 on Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
"We've been playing well at home and we're confident going back there," said Hartikainen. "We'll get some good rest in our own beds. It's nice going back to OKC in this situation."
"It was more physical and we expected the intensity to go up, which it did," said Nelson. "I expect the same on Wednesday. That's the way we need to play to be successful."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick