SAN ANTONIO — Overtime playoff hockey is suddenly Barons hockey.
After avoiding overtime in their first 11 playoff games in franchise history, the Barons needed extra time for the third-straight contest Thursday night — and for the third straight time, Oklahoma City took the game’s last shot.
And once again, it was Chris VandeVelde with the Barons’ dagger, lifting a backhander over San Antonio goaltender, Jacob Markstrom just 1:05 into overtime for a 2-1 victory and a commanding 3-1 series lead in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs. The Barons can advance to the Western Conference finals against the Toronto Marlies by winning Friday night at the AT&T Center. Game time is 7.
If San Antonio manages to win Friday, then the Barons would host Game 6 at 4 p.m. Sunday in the Cox Center. The Rampage needs to win three consecutive games against the Western Division champion Barons to advance.
Magnus Paajarvi began the winning play by keeping the puck alive in the San Antonio zone and found Teemu Hartikainen down low. The Edmonton Oilers’ sixth-round pick threw the puck in front, where VandeVelde, who scored the OT winner Monday night, lured Markstrom into reaching for the puck before flipping it into the open net.
“We came out strong (in the overtime). We got the bounces,” said VandeVelde on his third goal of the playoffs. “I had a little space to put it in, and I did.”
VandeVelde was skating on the same line with Paajarvi and Hartikainen since Josh Green missed the game with a minor injury. It is not known if Green will play Friday night.
The way both Yann Danis and Markstrom were playing in their respective creases, it appeared the first team to blink would pay the price.
Thursday night, it was San Antonio that blinked first, as Hunter Tremblay and Anton Lander broke out 2-on-1 with Tremblay tucking the puck under Markstrom with 9:04 left in regulation. Ryan Keller sent his linemates up ice, getting the second assist.
“Their D-man took away Anton,” said Tremblay on his fourth goal of the playoffs. “I got three or four whacks, and it finally went in.”
San Antonio drew even with 4:51 left in the game when Bill Thomas clipped a backhander behind Danis. Rampage defenseman Michael Caruso kept the puck in at the blue line, fed it low to Bracken Kearns, then found Thomas at the top of the crease.
Danis made 30 saves, including at least five challenging stops in the game’s final four minutes when San Antonio skaters had an edge in momentum.
Danis denied Scott Timmins with a glove save with 3:45 remaining and followed it up with a nice sprawling stop on David Marshall less than a minute later.
“We’re up 3-1 but the series isn’t over yet,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “We have three shots to get it done for the series, but we want to make sure we play a solid game. If I had it my way, I’d like for the series to be done (Thursday).”