A hot goaltender not only can carry a team in the playoffs, a hot goaltender can help lead a team to the playoffs.
Veteran goalie Yann Danis won his fifth consecutive start Sunday afternoon as the Oklahoma City Barons rallied with five unanswered goals to defeat the Chicago Wolves 5-2 at the Cox Convention Center.
Danis recorded 26 saves. He's lost only one game in regulation since he returned from Edmonton nearly a month ago.
“We're playing with a lot of character,” Danis said. “This reminds me a lot of last year. Even when we got down two goals we knew we could come back. We're playing well right now.”
After the NHL lockout ended, Danis spent most of the next two months with the Oilers. Since he returned from Edmonton, Danis is 6-1-2 with a 2.07 goals against average and .919 saves percentage.
“We're not the same team,” Danis said. “We're playing a lot better as a whole, especially defensively not giving up as many chances.”
The final score is misleading. OKC trailed much of the game. Danis made several big stops to keep the Barons within striking range.
Chicago goalie Matt Climie recorded 31 saves in the Wolves' 3-0 win Saturday night against backup OKC goalie Niko Hovinen. Climie started again on Sunday and stopped 42 shots. He had 35 saves midway through the third period when Chicago was leading 2-1.
“Yann is playing well, and our guys are playing well in front of him,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Yann made some big saves to give us a chance to win.”
Another key in Sunday's game was Nelson played a hunch, flip-flopping two centers on his top two lines. It paid huge dividends when Mark Arcobello joined Teemu Hartikainen and Toni Rajala on a forward line.
The Arcobello line produced three goals to help OKC erase a 2-0 deficit. Rajala scored two goals. Hartikainen had a goal and two assists. Arcobello chipped in three assists.
“The lines were getting a little bit stale,” Nelson said. “It seemed to spark Harty and Toni, and Arco made a great feed to Harty to get us going. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't.”
From behind the net, Arcobello made the key pass on Hartikainen's goal midway through the second period to finally beat Climie. Ryan Martindale somehow scored on a backhander from a poor angle to tie the game with 10:34 remaining.
That's when the Arcobello line took over.
Rajala scored the go-ahead goal with 9:41 left off a nice feed from Hartikainen. Arcobello set up Rajala's insurance goal that made it 4-2 with just over 10 minutes left.
“Small things like a line change sometimes can give you a boost,” Hartikainen said. “When things aren't going well and they change the lines you have to pick it up.”
With seven regular-season games remaining the Barons still have some work to do but have a good shot at making the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Six teams are fighting for the final four AHL Western Conference playoff berths. Five of the six teams won on Sunday, the Chicago-OKC loser being the exception.
“With everybody else winning, this was a very big win,” Nelson said. “We finish the week off three out of four. But have to keep it going.”