PREVIEW: Barons vs. Griffins - Game 4
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PUCK DROP: 6:00 p.m. MDT
AT THE MORNING SKATEOKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - Drawing in for the injured Tanner House, Ryan Martindale will make his professional post-season debut tonight in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.
The 21-year-old will slot in on the fourth line alongside Ben Eager and Antti Tyrvainen.
"I'm looking forward to getting the opportunity to get into some playoff action," said Martindale. "It's unfortunate what happened to Housey, but I'm going to step in and give it everything I've got."
"He's fired up," added captain Josh Green, who remains on a unit with Chris VandeVelde and Tyler Pitlick. "He's been waiting a long time for this. It's nice to see him get back in. He's worked so hard and has stayed part of the group. He's a skilled guy and he has a great shot. He knows what he has to do. He's going to try and do some of the same things that Tanner was doing, like being strong on draws.
"Playing on that fourth line with Eags an Antti, they've got to be physical and smart with the puck."
Martindale appeared in 41 regular-season games, collecting six goals, 14 points and a -3 rating. He hasn't played in over a month, however, with his last game coming on Apr. 21 against the Houston Aeros. Since then he's been skating with the Black Aces, doing everything possible to stay in game shape.
"It's no fun not playing," said Martindale. "You want to be in every game and help the team out as much as you can. But I've been staying focused, working as hard as possibly could and now the opportunity has come.
"I'm going to make the most of it."
"He brings a skill-set that not too many people have," added Head Coach Todd Nelson. "He's a guy that might be able to get open in certain situations and those other guys will create some room for him.
"He has the ability to finish, too, so it gives us a bit of a different dynamic on that line. They provided energy for us (in Game 3) and we expect the same out of them now."
House was blindsided with a late hit by Triston Grant in the second period of Game 3. The 27-year-old was knocked unconscious, carted off the ice on a stretcher and has since been diagnosed with a concussion.
There was no penalty on the play and no supplementary discipline has been assessed.
According to Head Coach Todd Nelson, House is "feeling good," but will be out at least a week as he follows concussion protocol.
"He looks good," he said, "but we won't know for sure until the protocol is met and he's done some exercises to see if there are any headaches or things like that. Right now he feels great, but after the protocol is met and he's done some physical activity, then we'll see where he's at."
House's presence will be missed, particularly on the penalty kill where he was a key component to the Barons' success in halting all nine power-play chances against this series.
In his absence, everyone needs to step up.
Less than 12 hours after the Detroit Red Wings were eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, the club assigned forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson to the Griffins.
Nyquist, 23, was the club's leading scorer this season with 23 goals and 68 points in 58 games, but has been up with the Red Wings since Mar. 20. In 14 post-season games in the NHL, Nyquist tallied a pair of goals and three assists.
It's a significant boost to a team that's struggled to get its offence rolling.
"We expect their best hockey game -- bar none," said Nelson. "We have to bring the same. I still don't think that we've played our best game and that was the message to the guys this morning.
"We're going to need it against this hockey team because they're going to be hungry."
"Our game shouldn't change," added Green. "We want to be physical, especially on those guys that are coming down. They're skilled players and they make good plays, so we want to make sure we're hard on them, like we are on any other player on their team.
"Nothing really changes for us. Obviously they got a bit better, but we're worrying about ourselves."
Tonight is the second of three straight to be played at the Cox Convention Center in OKC. With a win, the Barons would take a stranglehold on the series and would have a chance to close it out Saturday night on home ice.
A loss means the series would be back on even terms, guaranteeing at least a Game 6 back at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.
"It's an important game," said Green. "It's a chance for us to go up 3-1 in the series and we know that in the dressing room. It would be a huge advantage going forward. We're focused on bringing the same type of effort that we had last game and not worrying about any outside distractions.
"We're focused on the task at hand and making sure we bring our best game here tonight."
Western Conference Final Series: Barons lead 2-1.
Playoff Record: Barons: 9-4-0; Griffins: 8-6-0.
Setting the Stage: Rebounding well after dropping Game 1 in Grand Rapids, the Barons have now won two straight and are leading the Western Conference Final 2-1. First-period goals by Ben Eager, Josh Green, Philippe Cornet and an empty-netter by Jonathan Cheechoo propelled OKC to a pivotal 4-1 win in Game 3.
Yann Danis made 20 saves.
With home ice advantage belonging to the Barons, Game 4 is the second of three straight games to be played at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City. The Barons hold an AHL-best 5-0-1 record and have outscored their opponents 28-11 at home this post-season.
Veteran Presence: Jonathan Cheechoo recorded a goal and an assist in Wednesday's Game 3 victory. The 32-year-old veteran has now recorded at least one point in five straight. Combined in the regular season and playoffs, the Barons are 12-0-0-0 when Cheechoo scores a goal and 20-3-0-0 when he collects a point.
The Cavalry is Coming: Less than 12 hours after falling in Game 7 to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Red Wings have bolstered the lineup of their AHL affiliate. Forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson, along with goaltender Jordan Pearce were all assigned to Grand Rapids Thursday.
Nyquist, 23, recorded 23 goals and 60 points in 58 regular-season games with the Griffins, but has been up in the National Hockey League since Mar. 20. In 14 post-season games with the Red Wings, Nyquist collected a pair of goals and three assists.
Andersson split the 2012-13 campaign between cities but appeared in all 14 post-season games with the Red Wings, recording a goal and four assists.
Puck Drop: Barons pivot Tanner House suffered a concussion Wednesday night after being blindsided by former Baron Triston Grant in the second period. It's unclear who will be inserted in his place, but Head Coach Todd Nelson has depth at the centre position.
Ryan Martindale and Travis Ewanyk both sat as healthy scratches and could get the call. Martindale has yet to appear in the playoffs, last playing on Apr. 21 vs. Houston. In 41 games with the Barons this season, the 21-year-old recorded six goals, 14 points and a -3 rating.
Ewanyk is currently on an Amateur Tryout (ATO) Contract. Coming off a deep post-season run with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings, could the St. Albert product get a shot to make his professional debut?
Yann Danis will get the start in goal.
Injury Report: Anton Lander (lower body) is out; Curtis Hamilton (knee surgery) is out; Dan Ringwald (concussion) is out; Tanner House (concussion) is out; Alex Plante (broken jaw) is out.
Plante has been skating on his own and with the team for the past few weeks and could be available to play in the near future. But with Taylor Fedun, Martin Marincin, Brandon Davidson, Garret Stafford, Andrew Hotham and Randy Jones playing as well as they are, the Barons might not want to mess with chemistry.
"I was on a food processor for a bit there. I'm eating food again, which is nice -- I really like food," laughed Plante.
"It's going well right now and you don't really want to mess around too, too much. I'm doing my part, staying in shape and being ready to go if I do get the call. I'd love to be a part of it. However, how can anybody be frustrated with a team that's going deep in the playoffs? I'm very happy for the guys and they have my support right now.
"I can only control what I can control and that's trying to get into playing shape."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick