The Oklahoma City Barons qualifying for the American Hockey League playoffs appeared to be a long shot two months ago. Now, they are above the playoff cutoff line following a 6-4 win over Charlotte on Sunday afternoon at the Cox Convention Center.
By sweeping a two-game weekend series against the Checkers, Oklahoma City is in seventh place in the Western Conference with two weeks left in the regular season.
If the AHL playoffs started Monday, the Barons would be in the postseason for the fourth consecutive year under coach Todd Nelson. Oklahoma City has been Western Conference finalists the past two seasons.
“This was huge to get both of these wins, but it will probably still come down to the wire,” Nelson said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good position, but we still have work to do.”
With five games remaining in the regular season the Barons have clawed all the way back to seventh place in the conference. Oklahoma City (33-27-11) next plays Friday and Sunday at Abbottsford (39-25-7), which is fifth in the conference.
OKC has 77 standings points, but Rochester has 76. Charlotte and Rockford both have 75. Only two of the four will qualify.
“All the work we did this weekend doesn’t mean anything if we don’t go to Abbottsford next weekend and play well,” Nelson said. “This by no means is even close to being over.”
Charlotte (36-33-3) led 1-0 after one period, but the Barons opened the second period with a 5-on-3 power-play.
Matthew Ford scored his 23rd goal of the season to tie the game. Thirty-one seconds later, Andrew Miller lit the lamp to swing the momentum.
“We had the same thing happen in Charlotte, but we came out and didn’t score on the (5-on-3),” said Barons defenseman Brad Hunt. “We knew we could put them on their heels if we scored at least one to tie it. Scoring two was huge.”
The Barons continued to fire away. OKC scored four goals in the second period off a franchise-record 27 shots.
Roman Horak, who returned Saturday night after missing six games to injury, had assists on the first two goals and then scored his 21st goal for a 3-1 cushion.
Taylor Fedun added another power play goal late in the period to make it 4-1, but the Checkers got one goal back just before intermission. Charlotte scored a power-play goal early in the third period and tied it with 9:00 left on Justin Shugg’s goal.
“It’s funny how the game works sometimes,” Nelson said. “We turned the puck over and they scored, which swayed the game their direction. If we had gotten out of the second up 4-1 it would have probably been different, but give them credit. They were playing their third game in three days and kept battling back.”
Despite outshooting the Checkers 42-24, the game was still tied heading into the final minute.
Curtis Hamilton scored with 34 seconds left off a perfectly timed 2-on-1 pass from Fedun. Brandon Davidson scored an empty-net goal with 12 seconds left to ice it.
“To get a 4-1 lead against the type of team Charlotte has was awesome,” Hunt said. “Then after we gave the lead away, we came back and showed a lot of character to battle back and get a huge victory. We need to keep rolling, hopefully right into the playoffs.”