The Barons are one point away from clinching an American Hockey League playoff berth.
Goaltender Yann Danis and the Barons continued their late-season surge with a 1-0 win over Abbotsford on Friday night in front of 4,684 fans at the Cox Convention Center.
Rockford delayed a playoff clinching celebration with a win at San Antonio. But the only way the Barons don't make the playoffs is they would have to lose their final two games, in regulation, and Rockford wins its finale Saturday night at Texas.
Eight teams make the playoffs. With the win, Oklahoma City moved into sixth, leapfrogging Rochester, the only playoff contender that lost Friday night.
Bottom line is the Barons need only one standing point — a win or an overtime or shootout loss.
Oklahoma City closes the regular season Saturday night (Abbotsford) and Sunday afternoon (Houston) at home.
“We're excited about the playoffs, but we're not in, yet,” said Toni Rajala, who scored the game's only goal with 6:39 left. “We have to stay focused and come out and win (Saturday).”
Danis has been on a roll since he returned six weeks ago from Edmonton.
Posting his second shutout of the season, both coming the past week, Danis stopped all 24 shots to improve to 9-3-2 with a 1.68 goals against average and .934 saves percentage since he returned to Oklahoma City.
“It's a cliché, but defense wins games,” Danis said. “That was the case again tonight. I'm playing well. I'm feeling good. But we're not giving up the chances we were earlier in the year. We're doing a great job clearing out front to where I can see the puck.”
The Barons outshot the Heat 31-24, but neither team had excellent scoring chances in what coach Todd Nelson termed an ugly game.
“It was pretty clear Yann was our best player tonight,” Nelson said. “Our guys were struggling with their execution of the game plan and passing and receiving. Simple things. Our skill guys were fighting the puck. But it happens from time to time. We got through it and Yann bailed us out.”
The only goal came on a three-on-two rush started on a pass from defenseman Randy Jones. The crowd sensed it could be a key moment with Jonathan Cheechoo, Mark Arcobello and Rajala broke into the offensive zone.
Cheechoo's shot, though, hit the right post. About the time the crowd's collective groan waned, Rajala, an ECHL All-Star who joined the Barons midway the season, backhanded in the game-winner, his 16th goal and 42nd point in 44 games with OKC.
“I didn't really have to do anything,” Rajala said. “I just saw it (sitting) there and put it in. It was a good job by Cheechoo and Arco. It was a big goal for us.”
A veteran who has 501 games NHL experience, Cheechoo fanned on what turned out to be the game-winning assist. It actually served as a fake that dropped Abbotsford goalie Barry Brust to his knees. Cheechoo rewound and fired the puck off the right post.
“My stick got stuck on the ice, but I was able to re-control it, walk around and then hit the post,” Cheechoo said. “Toni was right there. It seems that's the type of game it was where a garbage goal was going to win it.”
Nelson praised his team after going 2-1-1 on a four-game road trip that put the Barons on the brink of advancing to the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
“It was an ugly game,” Nelson said. “Abbotsford had us on our heels quite a few times where they had us hemmed into our zone. But our guys were pretty resilient and found a way to win. Good hockey teams do that.”