With five players coming back from the NHL for the start of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Barons chemistry was a little shaken up at the start of their American Hockey League first-round playoff series against Hamilton.
Things seem to be clicking now for the Barons.
Wednesday night, the Barons beat the Bulldogs 5-2 in front of 2,041 at the Cox Center.
With the series now tied 2-2, the teams will play again here 7:05 p.m. Friday.
“Now, we are in the front seat,” Barons winger Linus Omark said. “If we win that (Friday), I think we make it.”
The scoring output in Game 4 came from the expected (Omark, an empty-netter from Chris VandeVelde) and from the very unexpected (Hunter Tremblay, Zack Stortini and Mark Arcobello).
Omark and VandeVelde were two of the players sent back from Edmonton for the playoffs. Arcobello played most of the season in the East Coast Hockey League before sticking with the Barons late and turning into one of the team's most dependable centermen.
Tremblay's contributions have been even more eye-opening.
The 25-year-old was signed to an amateur tryout contract in the final week of the regular season after playing at the University of New Brunswick.
But, after sitting out the first game of the playoff series, Tremblay has gained enough confidence from Barons coach Todd Nelson to see time on the power play and penalty killing units. He put the Barons ahead just more than three minutes into Wednesday's game with his first professional goal.
“As a new player coming in, you can't ask for more than that,” Tremblay said. “But at the same time, trying to earn your respect by keeping your mouth shut and doing your job as best you can and not screwing (up) for the boys.”
The Barons also broke the power-play struggles that had held them back so far in the best-of-7 series.
With the game tied 2-2 in the final minute of the second period, Arcobello threw one at the net through traffic, and it found its way past Hamilton goaltender Drew MacIntyre to put the Barons up for good.
Before that goal, the Barons were 0 for 16 on the power play in the series.
While their power play has struggled, the penalty kill has been steady since the team returned to Oklahoma City.
“It's been huge for us these past couple of games,” Nelson said. “We kind of changed the personnel a little bit. We're using the same guys but in some different combinations.
“They're doing a good job. They're paying the price, blocking shots.”
Teemu Hartikainen had played with both Arcobello and Omark at times for the Barons, but the three hadn't played together until this series.
Wednesday, they were the team's top line.
“They're definitely very creative,” Arcobello said of his linemates. “They get a lot of scoring opportunities. Once we started to really click, we started scoring the goals.
“We're still kind of getting used to each other, but I think you can see each game, we keep progressing more and more.”