The Oklahoma City Barons can qualify for the American Hockey League playoffs with a simple formula.
Sometimes, though, coach Todd Nelson has to remind the boys: Winning, good. Losing, bad.
Bad was the news Saturday night at the Cox Center. Chicago scored two first-period goals and played solid defense to defeat Oklahoma City 3-0 before a quiet crowd of 3,985.
Oklahoma City (34-24-10) suffered its first regulation loss in seven games while also allowing the Wolves (34-25-9) to gain two valuable standings points in the Western Conference playoff race. The Barons have 78 standings points; Chicago has 77. The Wolves can pass OKC with another win Sunday at the Cox Center.
The top eight teams in the conference qualify for the postseason, and Oklahoma City and Chicago are two of nine teams jockeying for what appears to be four available berths.
“That was a playoff style game, but we just didn't have any jam in us tonight,” Nelson said. “Chicago came out strong, had a strong 10 minutes, and it made us have an uphill battle. You can't do that and expect to win hockey games.”
Chicago had a 2-0 lead after the first period. Danny Grouix and Jim Vandermeer scored about 10 minutes apart to give goaltender Matt Climie all he needed for his sixth shutout of the season. Grouix's goal was a left-circle shot that found its way through a maze of bodies and over Barons goaltender Niko Hovinen's glove. Vandermeer notched his third goal of the season after finding the puck in a scramble of sticks in front of Hovinen and putting it home.
“I really thought Niko was strong — he just didn't get any goal support,” Nelson said. “But we have to find a way to get through to Climie. Their defensive structure was good, and we just couldn't find a way to get through.”
Oklahoma City outshot Chicago 31-25, but the numbers were misleading. Climie really didn't face many tough attempts, including three instances when the Wolves were short-handed. In fact, when Hovinen was pulled for an extra attacker and Chicago took a delay-of-game penalty to give the Barons a two-man advantage with 2:01 left, Gulliume Desbiens ripped a three-quarters-of-the-ice shot into an empty net for the 3-0 lead.
“Anytime you let a team score early in a game like we did, it puts you behind the eight-ball,” said Barons alternate captain Jonathan Cheechoo. “After that, you have play your best to give you a chance to come back and win. It takes a lot of energy to do that. We just have to come back (Sunday) and have a better effort in the first period.”