Eager instrumental in Game 3 win
Eager, Green, Cornet & Cheechoo propel Barons to a 4-1 win
|Photo by Steven Christy / OKC Barons
BARONS EDGE GRIFFINS
That changed Wednesday night as the 29-year-old had a game to remember, even if it was an abbreviated showing, netting the icebreaker 7:14 into the opening period and heping propel the Barons to a 4-1 victory at the Cox Convention Center.
Josh Green, Philippe Cornet and Jonathan Cheechoo (empty net) also tallied for the Barons, while Yann Danis made 20 saves in the win.
With the victory, the Barons now hold a 2-1 series lead over the Grand Rapids Griffins.
In one of the most dominant physical performances of the post-season, Eager was a menace to contend until his night came to an early end.
When former Baron Triston Grant leveled Tanner House with a dirty hit along the sideboards, Eager came to the defence of his unconscious teammate, chucking punches and stirring the already bubbling pot of bad blood.
"I think it was a dirty hit," said Eager. "I saw it at the last second. Anytime you see a teammate of yours out cold on the ice, there's usually some foul play there. I went over and whatever happened, happened. I got a little carried away after. I just don't know how the ref doesn't make a call when someone is old cold on the ice like that."
While the Griffin escaped unscathed, Eager was assessed 17 minutes in penalties and a game misconduct (abuse of the officials).
"It was described to me as a shoulder-to-shoulder hit," said Green.
"I've never seen anyone get knocked out cold from a shoulder-to-shoulder hit," added Eager. "That's why I got frustrated with the ref. When he's looking at it and someone's old cold on the ice, it's not usually not a shoulder-to-shoulder hit."
House was taken to hospital as a result. There is no update on his condition, but was responsive and "in conversation" with medical personnel.
Fireworks aside, there was a hockey game to be played and the Barons got the quick started they so desperately needed to take control of the series.
Highlighting a wonderful period by the former Oiler, Eager gave the Barons a 1-0 lead at 7:14. Right at the end of his shift and with Nathan Paetsch in pursuit, the winger rushed up the middle on a partial breakaway, crossed the blue line and wired a slap shot through the wickets of Petr Mrazek.
Eager's last goal came on Feb. 28 against the Dallas Stars.
"Benny played well," said Head Coach Todd Nelson. "He did everything that we asked him to do. He was skating, he was hitting and he scored a big goal for us to get us off to the races. He did everything and I was proud of the way he played."
Eager has the experience few can fall back on -- experience that often proves pivotal in the post-season. As a rookie during the 2004-05 campaign, Eager appeared in 16 post-season games with the Philadelphia Phantoms, recording a goal and an assist en route to the Calder Cup Championship.
"He's won before and he knows what it takes to get wins in the playoffs," said Green. "It's really important to take that kind of leadership at this time of year. He brings that experience and toughness into our lineup. If he sees something that isn't quite right, he lets people know and does it in a calming way.
"It has a positive effect on the group. It's nice to have him in the lineup."
"He's been a great teammate since he's been down here," added Cheechoo. "He's worked hard. Having a guy like that sticking up for guys, it shows what type of respect everyone has for each other on this team."
Just over a minute after Eager's goal and on their very next shot, the Barons extended to a 2-0 lead as Green collected his fourth of the post-season, pouncing on a turnover, spinning and ringing a shot off the far post and in.
Grand Rapids called its 30-second timeout immediately after, but it made little difference.
Capping a 15-minute stretch in which the visitors failed to register even a single shot on goal, Cornet made it a 3-0 game late in the period, burying a one-timer past Mrazek after accepting a gorgeous cross-ice feed from the pinching defenceman, Brandon Davidson.
Coming in with a helper in each of the past four games, Cheechoo picked up the other assist.
The Barons led 9-6 in shots after one period of play. Even so, Nelson wasn't particularly pleased with his team's play and demanded more after seeing some "shortcuts" creep into their game.
"You can't do that in this game. You can't cheat," he said. "It's an honest game and it will make you pay if you're not playing it properly. I thought we got some breaks and some bounces that went our way on all three goals."
The Griffins pulled Mrazek for an extra-attacker with a little more than four minutes to play. Chad Billins cut into the lead shortly thereafter, but it wasn't enough. With 1:17 to play, Cheechoo lofted a shot into the gaging cage to seal a 4-1 win.
By night's end, OKC had convincingly outshot Grand Rapids 33-21.
Game 4 is set for Friday night back at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. Puck drop is at 6:00p.m. MT.
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick