PREVIEW: Barons at Griffins - Game 2
No lineup changes expected as Barons look to even series with Griffins
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PUCK DROP: 5:00 p.m. MST
AT THE MORNING SKATEGRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - "Our guys have more to give."
Seeking a rebound effort (and result) in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final, Head Coach Todd Nelson and the Barons know they have to be better.
Admittedly so, OKC looked like a team that was coming off a long layoff. Execution was lacking, passes were off the mark and their "edge" was nowhere near where it needed to be.
"We've been off for a little while and that might have contributed to it, but it wasn't the edge that we were playing with against Texas," said defenceman Brandon Davidson, who, along with Garret Stafford, played big minutes on the blue line in Game 1. "We need to get back to playing our game and playing our best hockey. When we play that kind of hockey and that style, I don't think there's a team that can play with us.
"I thought we played a decent game overall, but it still wasn't our best.
"We've got to be a lot better tonight."
As a result of the back-to-back games, the Barons held an optional pre-game skate at Van Andel Arena.
Most players opted for an off-ice workout that included an impromptu soccer game. Only the Black Aces skated with assistant coaches Gerry Fleming and Rocky Thompson.
The Barons had their share of chances Friday night but couldn't bury the equalizer after goals by Brennan Evans and Landon Ferraro gave the Griffins a 2-1 lead. With Michigan product Luke Glendening off serving a penalty, Philippe Cornet had an open net to shoot for, but couldn't cash as the puck wobbled off his stick and into the paraphernalia of rookie netminder Petr Mrazek.
Mrazek was peppered with 28 shots on the night, but the Barons believe they can add more and make the goalie's life more difficult tonight.
"Some days those pucks go in and last night they didn't," said rookie Toni Rajala, who was held off the scoresheet in Game 1 but has recorded three goals and 13 points in the post-season. "We have to be more focused on putting those pucks in when we have a chance to score. We weren't as ready as we needed to be last night. Tonight we have to put more shots to the net and have guys gong there. There are always rebounds and we have to battle for those."
"If we get those opportunities, we have to make them count because Grand Rapids does well in limiting those chances against," added Nelson. "Honestly, it was a really weird game. I don't think they were quite where they wanted to be, either, so I'm expected a lot more from both sides tonight.
"Every time we have to put the gas down, we do. I'm sure our guys will be sharper tonight."
Just nine seconds into Game 1 and with full control as he looked to engineer a breakout, the puck slipped off the stick of Martin Marincin and into the wheelhouse of Griffins forward Jeff Hogan. If not for a brilliant stop by Yann Danis, Grand Rapids could have been up 1-0 before the ice was even dry.
Indeed, the Barons weren't as sharp we they needed to be.
"(Marincin) had a little bit of an off night, but he's human and everybody goes through those things, but I know he's going to be better," said Nelson.
As a result of the rust, others stepped up to provide a steadier presence. Davidson and Stafford in particular were exceptional at both ends of the ice, playing in all situations and giving the Barons the spark they so desperately needed.
Splitting the 2012-13 season with the Barons and Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, Davidson, 21, has had an incredible year. The product of Lethbridge, Alberta, was diagnosed with testicular cancer back in October. Amazingly, the rookie returned to action early in the new year after undergoing successful treatment to halt the disease.
Today, he looks like a seasoned vet and is being rewarded for his exceptional play.
"That's what we've worked for all year," said Davidson, smiling. "Garrett and I have played well together all season and we're continuing that now as we try to get something going on the back end.
"It's nice to know (Nelson) feels comfortable with us out there, too. But it takes the whole team to get going and get everything on track, so we need to bring that tonight and move on from our performance last night."
"It's a pairing that's been very strong for us," added Nelson. "They can move the puck so well and that's something we need from everyone right now. We want our guys to be more efficient in moving it up to our forwards to help get the offence going.
"All in all, when you look at last night's game, we're going to be a better hockey team tonight."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick