The Los Angeles Kings last season qualified for the playoffs the final week of the regular season and were the No. 8 seed. The defending Stanley Cup champions are a classic example of a hockey team with a hot goaltender that turned late-season momentum into an extended playoff run.
The Oklahoma City Barons carry a similar resume into the American Hockey League playoffs.
OKC clinched a playoff berth the next-to-last regular season game Saturday night but are the AHL's hottest team with a hot goaltender.
“This is the time of year you want to be playing well,” said veteran forward Jonathan Cheechoo. “We're looking to do some damage. We're not just happy we got in. This is when the real season starts.”
Led by Chris VandeVelde's third and fourth goals in two games and Toni Rajala's 17th goal since joining OKC after the NHL lockout ended, the Barons defeated Houston 3-0 Sunday afternoon at the Cox Convention Center to earn the No. 5 seed.
The Barons will open the playoffs against Charlotte, hosting games Game 1 and 2 Friday night and Saturday night. Faceoff is 7 both nights.
Having lost only three games in regulation the past six weeks Oklahoma City is 13-3-3 since March 10.
“We definitely have some momentum,” said team captain Josh Green. “You never know what could happen, especially with a hot goalie. We're certainly poised to make a run. But we're trying to stay humble, knowing there's a lot of work in front of us.”
With goaltender Yann Danis in net the Barons will be a tough out. Since he returned from Edmonton six weeks ago, Danis is 10-2-3 with a 1.77 goals against average and .931 saves percentage.
Two additional stats underscore how well the Barons have played the past six weeks.