The Oklahoma City Barons won all three overtime games last season when they made a run to the Western Conference finals.
The tables turned Friday night at the Cox Convention Center when Charlotte rallied for a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of a best-of-5 American Hockey League playoff series.
“This is something we're not accustomed to dealing with after the success we had last year,” said team captain Josh Green. “But in a way, I think it's a best-case scenario for us to play again (Saturday night) after a loss like that. We don't have to sit around and think about it too long.”
Green scored a goal and an assist. Teemu Hartikainen, reassigned by the Edmonton to Oklahoma City on Thursday, also scored a goal and an assist. Both were key players in last year's playoff run.
“Last year, we got a lot of energy from those overtime wins,” Hartikainen said. “We'll have to take all that energy from the anger we have today. It's a different situation. If you win you use it as momentum. If you lose you use the anger.”
Losing the opener puts pressure on the Barons for Game 2 Saturday night.
The series shifts to Charlotte for games Wednesday and if necessary games next Friday and Saturday.
“This game obviously will be the biggest game of the year,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “If we can get a split here then it's a best-of-3 in their building. You always want to get the win in Game 1, but it didn't work in our favor.”
It was a frustrating game for the Barons who lost when Brett Sutter tipped in the game-winner just 3:06 into the sudden death overtime period.
Oklahoma City led 1-0 after one period. After falling behind 2-1 midway through the second period, the Barons scored twice late in the second period for a 3-2 lead.
The Checkers tied it on their second power play goal of the game — Zach Boychuk tipping in a goal with 17:28 remaining in regulation.
Charlotte's strength is special teams. The Checkers finished in the top five in both the penalty kill and the power play.
The Barons had allowed only one power play goal their last 17 regular season games, killing off 43 of 44 penalties the final six weeks. Charlotte scored two power-play goals in Game 1.
“Special teams are huge,” Green said. “I think that's kind of what they wait for. We could have gone up 2-0 but didn't capitalize early when we had three (power play) chances. They scored one, and it was a new game. Then they scored a timely one in the third to get it to overtime.”
Nelson pointed out all four Charlotte goals had unusual circumstances, pucks deflecting off a skate or misdirections.
“I don't care how good your penalty kill is when it deflects and redirects,” Nelson said. “But those things happen. We also scored a power-play goal like that. I thought for the most part our structure was pretty good on the PK.
“The turning point was early in the third. We killed off a penalty and then took one right away again that was unnecessary. That allowed them to tie it up and gave them life.”
The Barons outshot their opponent for the 15th time in 16 games but must now win three of the next four games to advance to the best-of-7 second round.
“We took a couple of bad penalties,” Hartikainen said. “We need to give a little more effort, be more physical and play smarter, play like we were playing at the end of the regular season.”