The Oklahoma City Barons will have to wait a few days before securing their spot in the American Hockey League playoffs.
Needing a regulation win and some help elsewhere to clinch, the Barons faltered in the third period, giving up three goals to lose 4-1 to Grand Rapids on Sunday in front of 2,710 fans at the Cox Center.
It was the first time in 10 games the Barons failed to record a standings point.
As it turns out, a regulation win would've been enough for the Barons to become the first Western Conference team to clinch a playoff berth. Peoria's 2-1 loss to Hamilton about an hour after the Barons' game ended could've put them in a second consecutive season.
Instead, the Barons are likely to clinch the spot on the road.
The Barons play at Milwaukee on Friday and at Grand Rapids on Saturday before returning for four consecutive home games to wrap up the regular-season home schedule.
“It's definitely important,” Barons defenseman Colten Teubert said. “It's in the back of our minds, but we've just got to concentrate on going on the road and playing well.”
The Barons have been the top road team in the Western Conference, going 22-8-4 away from the Cox Center.
Continuing that strong play figures to be a big key toward advancing once the Barons are in the playoffs.
The retooled playoff format that made first-round series best-of-5 means the team, assuming it keeps it place at or near the top of the conference, will start the playoffs on the road.
“We've talked to them about that,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “We didn't want to drop that bombshell on them late.
“We're comfortable with that, though. We'll still have home-ice advantage, but it's going to be critical to get off to a good start on the road.”
The Barons had a franchise-record 22 shots in the third period Sunday but couldn't get one past goaltender Tom McCollum as the Griffins took the lead early in the period and then extended it.
Just four minutes in, Chris Minard took a pass at the point and beat Barons goaltender David LeNeveu on his glove side to put the Griffins in front.
Just more than four minutes later, Francis Pare took a cross-ice pass from Joakim Anderson near the blue line. LeNeveu got a piece of the shot, but it trickled over the line to put Grand Rapids up by two.
“I thought we kind of got away from things that we've been doing well before,” Nelson said. “Sometimes that creeps in with three games in three nights. “It was one of the things we tried to guard against.
“The third just didn't go our way. Grand Rapids looked like they had more jump than we did, but they should've.”
The Barons (41-18-9) lost defenseman Taylor Chorney to injury in the first period. It is not known how long Chorney will be out. But Oklahoma City is expected to have defenseman Alex Plante in the lineup during next weekend's road trip. He has been out with a concussion.