The Barons scored three goals in the first 17 minutes of Game 3 of the American Hockey League Western Conference finals Wednesday night at the Cox Convention Center.
The way Barons goaltender Yann Danis has been playing, it might as well been five or six goals.
Danis stopped all but one of the 21 shots shot he faced to lead Oklahoma City to a 4-1 win over Grand Rapids.
The Griffins spoiled Danis' attempt at his second shutout of the playoffs when Chad Billins scored with 4:54 remaining when Grand Rapids pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker.
“They scored on a lucky bounce. It went off one of our guy's stick,” Danis said. “What are you going to do? It was a win ... a huge win. You always hear how important it is to win Game 3 in a series. I felt we pretty much played a complete game.”
The Barons lead the best-of-7 series 2-1. Games 4 and 5 are scheduled Friday night and Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center.
“This puts us in a good spot for Friday night,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “That will be a huge game for both teams. It's a swing game. We want to keep the gas on. We just have to keep playing hard. We know how good a team they are.”
The Barons led 3-0 after the first and second periods. After Grand Rapids finally broke through, veteran Barons forward Jonathan Cheechoo clinched the win with an empty-net goal with 1:17 left.
A key stat has been Grand Rapids had outshot its opponent in every game the first two rounds but the Barons own a commanding 98-71 edge in shots on goal the first three games of this series.
OKC outshot the Griffins 33-21 on Wednesday after a 37-22 edge in Game 2.
“We're trying to be efficient breaking the puck out,” Nelson said. “Tonight, we had a rough go at the start but got better as the game went on. The big thing is managing the puck properly, getting pucks in deep and applying our forecheck. When we're forechecking well we usually have good zone time.”
The Barons led 3-0 after one period, but Nelson wasn't pleased.
“We were opportunistic,” Nelson said. “I thought we got some breaks, and some bounces went our way on all three goals. We had to straighten that out and play the right way. I felt we were taking some shortcuts.”
The Barons turned three Grand Rapids mistakes into a 3-0 lead.
Ben Eager got behind the defense for a breakaway, scoring from the high slot on a 25-foot wrist shot. Just over a minute later, team captain Josh Green knocked down Riley Sheahan's pass by the side of the net, turned and fired to score his fourth goal of the playoffs.
Philippe Cornet, left unguarded, scored off a beautiful pass from Brandon Davidson with 3:25 left in the opening period.
“We finally got some breaks,” Cheechoo said. “But we've done the right things for so long we finally were rewarded with a few breaks.”
Three different lines scored for the Barons. Eager, on the fourth line, scored his first goal of the playoffs. Green is on the No. 3 line.
“In the playoffs you need scoring from everyone,” Green said. “Secondary scoring is extremely important. We've relied on the top two lines for a lot of the offense. Speaking for the third line, we have to chip in whenever we can. More importantly, we need to play physical.”
This series could get real physical. It's inevitable after players hit one another game after game in a series. But the Western Conference finals could get really chippy after Grand Rapids forward Triston Grant knocked Barons forward Tanner House unconscious in the second period.
House was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to the hospital. Tempers lasted until the final buzzer when the Barons' C.J. Stretch and Grand Rapids' Mitch Callahan took off the gloves with 0:00 showing.
“The intensity ramps up in a series. I expect the same Friday night,” Nelson said. “We're not going to change the way we're going to play, and I'm pretty sure they'll stick with their game plan.
“It's two good teams going at it. Sometimes tempers flare. That's just the way it is. Calmer heads need to prevail. We have to be disciplined. We have to focus on the task at hand.”