Momentum can be fleeting.
Barons coach Todd Nelson has preached to his American Hockey League team all season about the importance of the shift immediately following a goal.
Friday night against Peoria, a defensive breakdown on that shift helped the Rivermen knock off the Barons 3-1 in front of 3,105 fans at the Cox Center.
“We tied it up, it's a 1-1 game and the next shift after that, we miss an assignment and there it is,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “I think we didn't play with enough emotion tonight, and I thought we didn't finish enough checks out there.”
The Barons had, in spurts at least, plenty of chances on Peoria goaltender Jake Allen throughout the night.
But until midway through the third, none found their way into the net.
Allen stuffed several breakaways and partial breakaways — several by Magnus Paajarvi — to keep Peoria ahead 1-0 after Mark Cundari's goal late in the first.
“You've got to give him credit, he made some big saves,” Barons winger Ryan Keller said. “But at the same time, we've got to bear down. We're going to run into good goalies in the playoffs and in the rest of the season here, and we've got to find ways to get more than one goal.”
The Barons finally caught a break midway through the third when Antti Tyrvainen threw the puck at the net.
Waiting just outside the crease, Josh Green tipped the puck and screened Allen, before Keller put the rebound home.
But just 1:03 later, the breakdown led to Phil McRae breaking free and beating Barons goalie David LeNeveu to put the Rivermen back up top.
Peoria added an empty-netter in the final seconds. The Rivermen (39-30-4) have won three straight and remain in contention for a Western Conference playoff berth.
“We worked hard to try and put ourselves back in it. We had a lot of chances, and we just couldn't convert and were able to tie it up,” Keller said. “I don't know if it was the next shift or two shifts after, we kind of let it slip away again.
“It's kind of a small portion, but it tells you about the whole game. We just, for whatever reason, didn't have enough.”
With the Barons loss and a Toronto win, the Marlies pulled to within four standings points of Oklahoma City for the top spot in the Western Conference.
Each team has five games remaining. The West Division champion Barons (43-20-9) host Midwest Division leader Chicago (39-26-6) at 7 p.m. Saturday in their second-to-last home game of the regular season.
The Barons need to bring a different attitude into this game, Nelson said.
“We probably thought it was going to be easy,” he said. “It certainly wasn't. It was a game for the taking, and it's a tough pill to swallow.”