Heading into Tuesday's night game between the Oklahoma City Barons and the Rockford IceHogs, things seemed out of whack.
The IceHogs, currently out of the playoff picture in the American Hockey League's Western Conference, entered as one of the hottest teams in the league. Rockford was unbeaten in regulation in its last eight games, with seven wins.
Meanwhile the Barons, currently atop the Western Conference standings, have struggled during the month of March with only one win in six tries (1-2-2-1), but they have scored standings points in four of their last five games.
Tuesday night marked a return to normalcy. The Barons won their first game in regulation since Feb. 22 as they defeated Rockford, 5-2, before 2,400 fans at the Cox Convention Center.
Barons defenseman Taylor Chorney, who scored two goals, said Oklahoma City was due for a game like this.
“I think we have been building on a night like tonight for about a week or so,” Chorney said. “I don't think we can pretend that we weren't in a little bit of a rut, but you can't just snap your fingers and say we are playing good again. You've got to chip away at it.
“I think tonight was the best 60-minute effort that we have put together in a couple of months. Hopefully, we have kind of turned the corner now and will go on the road and get some more wins.”
Barons coach Todd Nelson said his squad has been playing well in March even though Tuesday's victory was only their second of the month.
Oklahoma City raced to a 3-0 lead, scoring in the first period on a power-play goal just a minute after killing off a five-minute penalty.
Magnus Paajarvi passed from the faceoff circle to Josh Green, who fired the puck in front of the net to Teemu Hartikainen for the goal and a 1-0 Barons lead at 13:08.
“I think the key to the game was that five-minute kill we had and then scoring right away on the power play right after that,” Nelson said. “I think that was the turning point, even though the game was early.”
In the second period, the Barons chased Rockford goalie Carter Hutton on goals by Chris VandeVelde and Chorney. Bryan Helmer and Tyler Pitlick both had assists on VandeVelde's goal, while Ryan Keller and Mark Arcobello assisted on Chorney's goal.
Rockford climbed back into the game on a second-period goal by Peter LeBlanc and a third-period score by Rostislav Olesz with just 4:56 remaining to trim the Barons' lead.
But any thoughts of a come-from-behind win by the IceHogs were quickly dashed just 15 seconds later when Chorney fired a wrist shot from just inside the blue line that found the Rockford net. Chorney had just received the puck after Arcobello won the faceoff in the left wing circle.
“I don't think the goalie ever saw it,” Chorney said. “There were a lot of bodies in front. That was big for us. It gave us another two-goal cushion.”
Hunter Tremblay intercepted a Rockford pass and scored an empty-net goal with 1.5 seconds left.
Nelson said the Barons have been playing well in March even though Tuesday's victory was just their second of the month.
“It's kind of funny how the game works. I think the two best games we played (in March) were in Peoria, and we lost that game in overtime, and here at home on Saturday night (a 3-2 overtime loss to Lake Erie),” Nelson said. “Sooner or later when you are playing pretty well, good things are going to happen.”
And good things happened for the Barons Tuesday night.