Oklahoma City Barons coach Todd Nelson admitted feeling a sense of relief after his club finally broke a four-game winless streak with Sunday's 3-1 victory over rival Abbotsford at the Cox Center.
Despite playing their third game in three nights, the Barons (24-11-2-3) found a way Sunday to salvage the final game of a three-game homestand and reclaim sole possession of first place in the American Hockey League's Western Division.
“The guys dug really deep,” Nelson said. “I'm very proud of them. For our guys to dig deep and get it, it was a sense of relief.”
The Barons have been mired in a scoring slump during the winless streak but erupted for three second-period goals Sunday to extinguish the Heat.
Oklahoma City's Chris VandeVelde scored a short-handed goal to break a scoreless deadlock 3:28 in the second period. Milan Kytnar, recalled a few days ago from Double-A Stockton (Calif.), netted a breakaway goal just 1:40 later for a 2-0 Barons' lead.
Abbotsford had cut the lead in half with goal at the 17:56 mark. But the Barons' Lennart Petrell responded with a goal on a shot from just inside the blue line with nine seconds left in the period. It was the first time the Barons had scored three goals in a period since a 6-0 win at Houston on Jan. 1.
Nelson thinks Petrell's goal demoralized Abbotsford (24-12-3-0), which entered the game in a three-way tie atop the division with the Barons and Houston.
“Petrell's goal is a big goal,” Nelson said. “We got a 2-1 game. As soon as we got that goal we felt pretty comfortable we could shut them down in the third. They had no momentum coming into the third period where we did.”
The Barons' first two goals were real crowd pleasers. VandeVelde beat the defenseman, using his body to shield the puck, and then slid it around Abbotsford goalie Danny Taylor for the score.
Nelson called VandeVelde's goal “an awesome individual effort ... Once we got that goal, I think we gained confidence and we kept on coming.”
Hunter Tremblay had an assist on the play and also on the Barons' second goal, which was scored right after killing a penalty. Kytnar popped out of the penalty box and immediately received a headman pass from Tremblay.
The pass gave Kytnar a breakaway opportunity, but his initial shot was stopped by Taylor. However, the Barons' forward was able to collect the rebound and score on his second attempt. Tremblay's pass, however, made the play.
“I ended up blocking a shot with my hand and basically just tried to get it down the ice, and he (Kytnar) popped right out of the box,” Tremblay said. “I was watching the whole way down hoping he was going to bury it.”
Nelson called it a heads-up play by a heads-up player.
“He is a very smart player,” Nelson said of Tremblay. “He plays the game hard. He got into a fight tonight. The only thing he was missing for a Gordie Howe hat trick was a goal. He played well. That's what we expect from him. He gives us everything he has.”
In fact, Nelson was impressed by the effort from his entire squad Sunday considering the back-to-back-back games.
“Abbotsford should have been fresher, but I thought our guys battled like warriors,” he said. “We didn't have the jump we did last night (Saturday's 2-1 loss to Abbotsford). I thought we were a bit off. But as the game went on we got better, and that is a credit to our guys. We stuck with it.
“Talking to our oldest player, (39-year-old) Brian Helmer, he said he had nothing left at the end of the game. That's what we expect from all of our guys. When the guys have nothing left to give, you realize you got the most out of them. That's what happened tonight. Our guys wanted it.”