GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The potential of a season-ending loss seemed likely for the Oklahoma City Barons after facing a two-goal deficit on the road Tuesday night in Game 6 of the AHL Western Conference Finals.
A stunning turnaround prevented it from happening.
Oklahoma City scored three times in the final period, including twice in the last 2:27, to pull out a dramatic 4-3 win over the Grand Rapids Griffins at Van Andel Arena.
The Barons' come-from-behind victory evened the series at 3-3 and forced a winner-take-all Game 7 on Wednesday night in Grand Rapids.
The winner will play the Syracuse Crush in the Calder Cup Finals.
“We had our backs against the wall, but we never quit,” said Oklahoma City's Mark Arcobello, who scored a pair of goals. “We stuck at it, and I'm proud of the guys. We kept shooting the puck, and we gutted it out.
“You never know what's going to happen, and you keep working hard. The attitude was to keep pushing and see what happens.”
Anton Lander scored the game-winner with 1:05 remaining in regulation on a tip-in off a shot from Randy Jones to cap a wild third period.
It was Lander's first game back with the Barons since being sidelined the past three weeks with a knee injury suffered in the second round against Texas.
“Jones took the shot and I just tried to get a stick on it,” Lander said. “This time I was lucky, and it's the small things that made a big difference. We had nothing to lose, and we had to score goals. It was a big win, but we need to play much better.”
The Griffins led 3-1 with less than 11 minutes left when the rally started.
Arcobello flicked a shot in past Grand Rapids goalie Peter Mrazek at 9:41, then Toni Rajala and Lander scored 82 seconds apart to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead.
“We talked about doing things the hard way, and we definitely did that tonight,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “The guys really dug deep, and I was happy with the way the guys played in the third period. They didn't quit, and we accomplished our goal. We wanted to force a Game 7 to see what would happen, and now we'll get ready for a big Game 7 tomorrow night.”
While Oklahoma City's scorers were finally able to capitalize on their chances against Mrazek, who shut out the Barons the past two games, it was goalie Yann Danis' game-changing save that provided the spark.
Less than two minutes after Arcobello's goal, Danis stopped Grand Rapids' Tomas Jurco on a penalty shot to keep it a one-goal game.
“Absolutely huge,” Arcobello said. “I think that was the turning point in the third. It swung the momentum for us, and it could've easily been another two-goal deficit. Yann stepped up big when we needed him.”
Danis, who allowed a pair of goals in the second period by Mitch Callahan and Jeff Hoggan that snapped a 1-1 tie, said he was simply trying to give his team a chance.
“I just wanted to make the save,” he said. “The second and third goals, I should've had, and after the second goal by us I knew things were turning around a little bit. I just wanted to make that save and keep it going.
“We've battled through adversity, and tonight was no different. Credit to the guys for getting me three goals in the third.”
Oklahoma City took a 1-0 lead in the first when Arcobello scored on a 5-on-3. The goal ended a 175-minute scoring drought against Mrazek
The Griffins answered on their own 5-on-3 late in the first as Jurco bounced a shot in off Danis' back.
Danis recorded 33 saves for the Barons, who will play their first Game 7 in franchise history.
“We expected to play Game 7, and we're happy about it,” Arcobello said. “We'll focus on getting the one that really matters now.”