CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Oklahoma City Barons had to scratch and claw this season just to make the American Hockey League playoffs.
Now the Barons find themselves in a similar position just to remain alive after a 6-1 loss to the Charlotte Checkers on Wednesday in Game 3 of their American Hockey League quarterfinal series.
Oklahoma City moved to the edge of elimination in its best-of-5 series, with the Checkers taking a 2-1 advantage into Friday's Game 4 on its home ice at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“Let's face it — nobody wants to be in this position,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “We're on the verge of elimination. But the guys have been in this situation before.
“It's a five-game series, so it means a lot more. If it was a seven-game series, you have time to recover. But now we've got to win two in a row.”
Oklahoma City dug itself an early hole, giving up three goals — two by Charlotte's Chris Terry off power plays — to the Checkers in a 51/2-minute span early in the first half.
Charlotte then added three more goals over the final two periods, including a pair of scores less than two minutes apart late in the third period.
In addition to Terry's two scores, four other Checkers scored — Matt Marquardt, Bobby Raymond, Justin Shugg and Tim Wallace — as the Barons allowed the most goals in a loss in nearly two months, since giving up seven at home to Rochester, N.Y., on March 9.
“It definitely wasn't the start we wanted,” said Oklahoma City goalie Yann Danis, who had 27 saves. “They killed us early with those quick goals. We tried to battle back and we had some chances, but their goalie played well and made some good saves.”
Checkers goalie Rob Madore had a playoff-high 37 saves, only giving up a first-period goal to Oklahoma City wing Toni Rajala. But even with 38 shot attempts — five more than Charlotte — the Barons rarely got off a shot that wasn't deflected by a Charlotte defender.
“It was a bad start,” said Rajala, who scored his first AHL playoff goal and his 18th of the season with 51 seconds left in the first period.
“Right now, it is what it is. We are able to beat these guys. We've just got to do that on Friday, and again on Saturday.”
Charlotte also won the special teams battle on both ends of the ice. The Checkers were 3-of-7 on power play opportunities, while holding the Barons — the AHL's leader in power plays — to just 1 of 9, including 1 of 3 in two-man down situations.
“We had some timely goals when we had the chance to score on the power plays, and our PK (penalty kill defense) did the job throughout the game,” Charlotte coach Jeff Daniels said.
A lot of that was due to the way officials called Wednesday's game, racking up 32 penalty minutes total between the two teams — equal to the minutes allowed in the series' first two games.
“The standard was different ... than what we saw in the first two games,” Nelson said. “This was probably the least physical game in the series.
“But that doesn't matter — they earned the win. They produced on their power plays, they did a good job on their PK and their goalie played well.”