GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Oklahoma City Barons had not played a postseason game in more than a week after beating Texas in the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs.
The rust from the layoff was apparent in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.
The Barons were held to only one goal and suffered a 2-1 loss to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday night before a crowd of 5,016 at Van Andel Arena.
Grand Rapids leads the best-of-7 series 1-0, and will host Game 2 Saturday night.
“I thought we were pretty rusty in the first (period), and you try to guard against that the best way possible, but we just didn't have our execution down tonight,” Barons coach Todd Nelson said. “We definitely looked like a team that has been off eight days, and I think (Saturday) night we'll look a lot better. We were a different team than we were against Texas, and we have to get that edge back.”
The Barons tallied 16 goals in their last three games against Texas, but managed only one late in the first period against goaltender Petr Mrazek and a stout Griffins defense.
After Grand Rapids' Brennen Evans scored his first goal of the season at 7:15 of the first, Oklahoma City answered when Andrew Hotham took a dump pass from Jonathan Cheechoo and snapped a shot past Mrazek's glove with less than four minutes left.
Hotham's second goal of the postseason knotted the game at 1-1.
“You are always a bit rusty when you're off a week or so, and they just played three or four days ago,” Hotham said of the Griffins, who defeated Toronto in the Western Conference semifinals. “It takes a couple shifts to get your legs into to it, but we weren't sharp tonight and we have to be better.
“I don't think you can ever panic in the playoffs, and you have to go into each game knowing you need to win. We have to focus (Saturday).”
The defensive struggle was a bit of a surprise considering both teams' potent offenses, and the fact that they had failed to combine for less than seven goals in each of their four regular-season meetings.
“It's the playoffs, and everyone tightens up,” Cheechoo said. “You have two skilled teams going against each other, and then you see that, and a lot of times you get more of a defensive hockey game. You know what the other team is capable of, so I think that's the way it played out tonight.”
Grand Rapids scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the second period. Landon Ferraro slammed a shot in past Barons' goaltender Yann Danis off a wraparound pass from Tomas Jurco.
The Barons failed to get the equalizer, and were 0-for-3 on the power play. Oklahoma City's penalty kill stopped all four of Grand Rapids' power play chances.
Both teams had 28 shots on goal.
“We did some pretty decent things, and I thought our penalty kill was strong tonight and we had some pretty good looks on the power play,” Nelson said. “We did not capitalize, but we had some pretty good opportunities, and I just think we need better execution. Getting more traffic in front of the net and getting shots through.”
Danis made 26 saves for Oklahoma City, while Mrazek stopped 27 shots.
The Barons will look to even the series Saturday before it shifts to Oklahoma City for the next three games.
“We did some good things tonight, but there are things we need to do better,” Hotham said. “And we'll work on that, and we'll talk about it (Saturday) morning. Anytime you go on the road you want to get that split, and we'll have that opportunity (Saturday).”