The Oklahoma City Barons hope history repeats itself.
The Barons split two games over the weekend in Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League best-of-7 Western Conference finals. They return home to host Games 3, 4 and 5 Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at the Cox Convention Center.
“It was big,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “Now we just have to take care of business at home. We feel pretty comfortable playing at home or on the road. But going home with a split I would say mission accomplished for this road trip.”
In their semifinal series against the top-seeded Texas Stars, the Barons split two tight games in Cedar Park, Texas, then won all three home games to win the series in five games.
The Barons, 4-1 at home in the playoffs, dominated the third period in all three home games against the Stars.
Oklahoma City outscored Texas 16-4 overall in the three Cox Center games. Even more revealing: the Barons outscored the Stars 9-1 in the third period, each time turning a tight game into a comfortable win.
“Winning three games at home, obviously that's our goal (again),” Nelson said. “But we'll start with pivotal Game 3 on Wednesday night. We have to play the same way we did (Saturday) night. If we play the same way good things will happen for us.”
The Western Conference finals feature the two highest-scoring teams in the playoffs. The Barons have scored 47 goals, the Griffins 42.
Special teams essentially have been a non-factor. Featuring end-to-end action, only 11 penalties were called in the two games. The Barons have scored the only power play goal.
Oklahoma City's top two lines, both No. 1 caliber lines, continue to produce.
Mark Arcobello, who scored the go-ahead goal in Saturday's win to break a 2-2 tie, has 17 points in the playoffs, including 10 goals, both figures tops in the Calder Cup playoffs.
Toni Rajala, an ECHL All-Star in Double-A during the NHL lockout, has scored 60 points in 58 games with the Barons, including the playoffs. A talented 22-year-old rookie from Finland, Rajala has 15 playoff points, including 12 assists after two more helpers in Saturday's win.
Teemu Hartikainen, who had two goals in Saturday's game, including a game-clinching empty-netter, has 13 points in the playoffs.
“This is my 10th year playing professionally,” said defenseman Garrett Stafford. “I can honestly say I have never been on a team with this much talent up front. This is the best scoring team I've ever been on.”
Offense is essential. But the primary reason the Barons have a viable shot to win this series, and reach the Calder Cup finals, is Yann Danis. The 31-year-old veteran goaltender has been a wall between the pipes.
Since returning from Edmonton in mid-March, playing nearly every game the final month of the regular season and all dozen playoff games, Danis is 18-6-3 with a 1.95 goals against average and .929 saves percentage the past two months.
“He's been excellent, very consistent,” Nelson said. “Every once in a while there's been a blemish but he's playing with a lot of confidence. When your goalie plays like he's playing it gives the entire team confidence.”
The Barons kept a four-month streak alive Saturday night. Oklahoma City hasn't lost back-to-back games in regulation since mid-January.
“It's been a lot of fun,” said veteran Jonathan Cheechoo, who has eight playoff points. “It's always more fun when you're winning. We have a wave of momentum. Hopefully that bodes well for us heading forward. If we keep playing the way we've been playing we'll have a pretty good shot.”
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
(OKC Barons vs. Grand Rapids Griffins)
(series tied 1-1)
Game 1 — Grand Rapids 2, Oklahoma City 1
Game 2 — Oklahoma City 4, Grand Rapids 2
Game 3 — Wednesday: Cox Convention Center, 7 p.m.
Game 4 — Friday: Cox Convention Center, 7 p.m.
Game 5 — Saturday: Cox Convention Center, 7 p.m.
Game 6 — x-June 4: at Grand Rapids, 6 p.m.
Game 7 — x-June 5: at Grand Rapids, 6 p.m.