Earlier this season the Oklahoma City Barons appeared in serious jeopardy of missing the American Hockey League playoffs for the first time in their four-year history.
With two months left in the regular season, the Barons are still slightly below the playoff cutoff line, but they are back in the Western Conference chase after they posted their sixth consecutive win Friday night, a dramatic 2-1 win over Lake Erie.
Anton Lander, the Barons team captain and leading scorer, beat Lake Erie goaltender Sami Aittokallio from 40-feet with 19.8 seconds left off a pass from Brad Hunt. The Barons were on the power play after Lake Erie's Karl Stollery was called for hooking with 2:03 left in the game.
“I was going for a one-timer,” Lander said. “I was just trying to put the puck on net. Maybe this time I got lucky. It was a big win.”
The Barons (22-22-6) can match the franchise's longest winning streak with another victory Saturday night over Lake Erie (20-24-4) at the Cox Center. The Barons won seven in a row two years ago.
“If you go back to earlier in the year, a couple of bounces cost us a few games,” said Oklahoma City goaltender Richard Bachman. “We're now playing a full 60 minutes, playing the game the right way. Now those kind of bounces are going our way. For it to continue, we have to work hard.”
It also was Bachman's sixth consecutive win. He stopped 39 of 40 shots to improve to 14-12-3.
“When we won (four) games on that road trip, we gave Richard a lot of goal support,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “On the road, he made key stops when we needed him. Tonight, he was spectacular.”
Bachman spent the past two seasons as the Dallas Stars backup goalie. After starting this season in Oklahoma City, Bachman spent three weeks with Edmonton before he was sidelined by a groin injury. He's been back with the Barons the past two months.
“He was like he always is; he was great,” Lander said. “He saves us so many times. He played awesome. When he makes those big saves, I don't know how he does it. ”
Bachman and the Barons haven't lost since the Charlotte Checkers romped to 9-3 and 4-0 wins two weeks ago in North Carolina.
“I actually was fighting it a little in the first period,” Bachman said of Friday night's game. “I wasn't catching it clean with the glove. But as the game went on I settled in. After the break it takes a little time to get your legs back under you.”
It was the first game back for both teams following the AHL All-Star break earlier in the week.
“I expected this type of game from both teams because of the time off,” Nelson said. “When they're off three days, they're going to be rusty. You saw that tonight. I expect a better game (Saturday) night. It was a typical game after an All-Star break.”
Nelson said the 9-3 loss at Charlotte could prove to be the turning point of the season. Refusing to give up in an unwinnable game, Nelson said was a good omen.
“That was a game we were embarrassed. This is a very proud group,” said Nelson, who has guided OKC to back-to-back Western Conference finals appearances. “In that game, those guys went out scrapping. Literally. I think that brought our team together. It was a growing moment for this hockey team.”
C.J. Stretch gave OKC a 1-0 lead at the 4:41 mark of the second period. The Monsters tied it about 14 minutes later on Matt Hanwick's goal.