PREVIEW: Barons vs. Griffins - Game 3
Games 3, 4 and 5 will all be played at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City
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PUCK DROP: 6:00 p.m. MDT
AT THE MORNING SKATEOKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - In preparation for tonight's pivotal Game 3, the Oklahoma City Barons participated in a 20-minute morning skate at the Cox Convention Center.
(Head Coach Todd Nelson will not making any lineup changes.)
Sporting a 4-0-1 home record this post-season (22-11-2-3 in the regular campaign), there's no place the Barons would rather be. Giving them a wonderful opportunity to bury their opponent due to the 2-3-2 format, Games 3, 4 and 5 will all be played in OKC.
"I like the format if you're the lower seed," said Nelson. "There was no pressure on us going into their building and we gained the split there. If you're the higher seed and are starting at home, you have to win both those games. There's a lot more pressure on you. Coming back home after getting the split, we've put ourselves in a good position.
"We're comfortable playing everywhere, but it's time for us to take advantage. This is a great opportunity for us tonight."
"It's nice to be sleeping in your own bed and having all the amenities here at home -- it's a comfortable atmosphere for us," added defenceman Taylor Fedun. "It allows us to get into that routine that we've known all season.
"It's been working well for us and we want to keep it going."
The Barons have been in this situation before. Last round vs. Texas, OKC earned a split on the road and returned home for three straight. Back then, the Barons made quick work of the Stars.
"We steamrolled them," said centre Chris VandeVelde. "I'm not saying it's going to be that easy, but we've got to go out there, play hard and we'll see what happens.
"Tonight's a big game. With the series tied 1-1, the winner has a little momentum going forward."
In order to capture it, the Barons will have to continue to get contributions from everyone. Teemu Hartikainen, CJ Stretch and the AHL's post-season leading scorer, Mark Arcobello, each scored in the Game 2 victory, but all four lines have been rolling, contributing and playing their roles to perfection.
According to Nelson, it's a "luxury both teams have," making line matching on both sides less of a concern.
"It's a huge advantage for us when everybody contributes," said VandeVelde, who, on a line with Josh Green and Tyler Pitlick, collected an assist and a +1 rating on Saturday night. "That's how a team should be. Like Todd said, we don't have to match lines right now because everyone is pitching in."
"There are so many similarities between our two teams that sometimes it almost feels like we're almost playing against ourselves," added Fedun. "They've got four deep lines like we do and we've been able to roll all four and the six D we have have been able to keep them to the outside. When they do slip between the cracks, (Yann Danis) has been there to make a big save for us."
Danis has, indeed, been a rock between the pipes. The 32-year-old veteran posted 20 saves, including many of the brilliant type, in Saturday's Game 2 win. At the other end, Petr Mrazek has been equally sound. The rookie was tested with 37 shots the other night and he recorded a post-season high 34 saves.
With dangerous players on both sides and with quality goaltenders standing as the last line of defence, there's no shortage of skill to be aware of at puck drop.
"You have to be," said Fedun. "They have some guys that have an elevated skill level that you do have to be cognizant of."
"They're rolling their lines as well because everyone is capable," added Nelson. "Their fourth line was arguably one of the better lines we played against when we were up in Grand Rapids. You can't let your guard down. It takes a total team effort to have success and we need everyone going tonight.
"We want to come back and have the same effort that we had on Saturday night."
Western Conference Final Series: 1-1
Playoff Record: Barons: 8-4-0; Griffins: 8-5-0.
Setting the Stage: Following a 2-1 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, the Oklahoma City Barons bounced back the very next night, posting a 4-2 victory at Van Andel Arena and sending the series back to OKC knotted at one game apiece.
Teemu Hartikainen led the way with a pair of goals, while Yann Danis made 20 saves in the win. Mark Arcobello and CJ Stretch also tallied for the Barons.
"We didn't play up to our potential in Game 1," said winger Philippe Cornet, who, on a line with Jonathan Cheechoo and Mark Arcobello, has collected a goal and eight points in the post-season. "We knew it wasn't our best game. It wasn't a bad game, but we were off for nine days and it's hard to get back at it. They came out strong, put pressure on us and we didn't know how to handle it.
"We're playing at our best when we're keeping it simple. If you try and get too cute, especially against a team like Grand Rapids, it's going to make for a long series."
"(Game 2) was more indicative of how we want to play this series," added Head Coach Todd Nelson. "I thought we were more physical, we applied more pressure and we were moving our feet well. That's the way we need to play to be successful. After losing Game 1, the guys got their legs a bit and responded very well."
As a result of the split on the road, the Barons are now in possession of home ice advantage. Games 3, 4 and 5 will all be played at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
Barons: Home sweet home! The Barons have yet to lose in regulation time this post-season at the Cox Convention Center, posting a 4-0-1 record overall and outscoring their opponents in 24-10 in the process.
"It's always important to take care of your business at home," said Nelson. "We achieved what we wanted to achieve in Grand Rapids -- and if we take care of business at home, it should put us in a pretty good situation. We've had success here in OKC and we have to continue that if we want to move on."
"It won't be easy. They're a very good team," added Cornet. "What we're going to try to do, which would be the best case scenario, is to do what we did against Texas (win all three). In order to do that, I think we've got to keep it simple and play like we did last game -- keep pressure on their D, keep the puck deep in their zone and work the forecheck. That's the biggest strength of our team and we've got to focus on that."
And another thing…
Mark Arcobello scored the game-winner in Game 2. He continues to lead the Barons (and the entire American Hockey League) in post-season scoring with 10 goals and 17 points.
The 24-year-old comes in sporting a nine-game point streak -- a stretch in which he's collected seven goals and 12 points.
Griffins: While Teemu Hartikainen, Mark Arcobello, CJ Stretch and others are heating up for the Barons, the Griffins are still waiting for their stars to arrive. Tomas Tatar did score the other night in Game 2, but Grand Rapids' second and third leading scorers, Luke Glendening and Landon Ferraro, were held pointless and were a combined -4.
Coming into Game 2, Grand Rapids hadn't been outshot all post-season. That all changed Saturday night when Oklahoma City held a 37-22 advantage by night's end.
Injury Report: Anton Lander (lower body) is out; Curtis Hamilton (knee surgery) is out; Dan Ringwald (concussion) is out; Alex Plante (broken jaw) is out.
Puck Drop: Head Coach Todd Nelson is expected to deploy the same line combinations as he did Saturday night in Game 2:
Philippe Cornet - Mark Arcobello - Jonathan Cheechoo
Toni Rajala - CJ Stretch - Teemu Hartikainen
Josh Green - Chris VandeVelde - Tyler Pitlick
Ben Eager - Tanner House - Antti Tyrvainen
Yann Danis will get the start in goal.
Scratches: Kendall McFaull, Travis Ewanyk, Ryan Martindale, David Musil, Joey Leach, Colten Teubert, Darcy Hordichuk, Martin Gernat, Kristians Pelss and Ryan Martindale.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick