The Barons face a daunting challenge in a first-round playoff series against the Texas Stars, who posted the best record in the American Hockey League.
Oklahoma City, though, is not a typical No. 8 seed.
After the NHL regular season ended last weekend, the Edmonton Oilers reassigned team captain Anton Lander, plus Will Acton, Tyler Pitlick, Steve Pinizzotto and Oscar Kelfbom to Oklahoma City.
“If we had continuity the whole year, our record would be a lot stronger,” said coach Todd Nelson, whose team finished the regular season with a 36-29-11 mark. “Just getting into the playoffs was an outstanding achievement for this team. With all the guys back, we’re stronger than we’ve been at any point this season.”
Led by Travis Morin, the AHL Most Valuable Player who led the league in scoring, the Stars were the hottest team the final month of the regular season. Texas was on a 12-0-1 roll before it lost the regular-season finale Saturday night. The Stars sat some of their top players during a loss to Abbotsford.
In contrast, Oklahoma City underwent 152 roster transactions. Defenseman Taylor Fedun is one of only five players that appeared in more than 60 games for the Barons.
“They were consistently at the top of the league all season, but we’ve been a different team the past two months,” Fedun said. “We’re even stronger now that we’ve got some key pieces back. I think we’re a team to be reckoned with.”
A couple of players pointed out the Los Angeles Kings a couple of years ago won the Stanley Cup as a No. 8 seed.
“You can’t really look too much at the seeds. It’s all about who clicks at the right time,” said Barons forward Steve Pinizzotto. “This team has been playing well for a couple of months. Having a really good goalie like we have is huge.”
Richard Bachman didn’t notch dazzling stats. But the goaltender has started nearly every game during a 20-7-5 season-ending run to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
“There’s no doubt they’re been the best team in the league,” Barons general manager Bill Scott of Texas, which finished with a league-best 48-18-10 record. “They’re a very deep team at all positions and have strong goaltending. But our record is not indicative of where we’re at right now as a team.
“I think we’re coming on at the right time. We’re gaining confidence. We’ve always had some great games with them.”
Last season, the Barons were a lower seed and reached the Western Conference finals for the second straight year. They reached the conference finals by beating the higher-seeded Stars in the second round.
“Getting some guys back, hopefully, we can get on a little bit of a run and have a fun postseason,” said Oklahoma City defenseman Brad Hunt. “After what happened last year I’m sure they’ll be motivated.”
Both teams might get some reinforcements at some point during the series.
Mark Arcobello, the Barons’ all-time scorer, might play later in the series after being sidelined the past dozen games with a sprained shoulder. Nelson said that Arcobello had not been through contact drills as of Friday, however.
Two of the Texas Stars top players — Colton Seviour (63 points in 54 games) and Chris Mueller (57 points in 60 games) — currently are with Dallas, which trails its NHL playoff series 2-0 with the Anaheim Ducks. If Dallas is eliminated, Seviour and Mueller could re-join the Triple-A team.
The Barons will host Game 1 Wednesday and Game 2 Saturday before the best-of-5 series shifts to Cedar Park, Texas, next week. Winning at home will be essential for Oklahoma City.
“They’re a tremendous hockey team, but I think we have a group that can make some noise,” Nelson said. “They know what kind of team we have. We’ve had some success against them. It should be a fun series.”