The Barons have been one of the American Hockey League's hottest teams the past six weeks. The only area that's been a little subpar has been the power play.
It wasn't subpar Saturday night.
The Barons scored three second-period power play goals in a 7-3 win over Abbotsford to clinch a playoff berth in front of 4,365 fans at the Cox Convention Center.
“It feels great to get in,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “This year has been a very up and down year, an emotional year. We had so many things going on with the lockout ... We've come a long ways. I'm very proud of the guys. It feels outstanding.”
Eight teams make the playoffs. The Barons are in sixth in the Western Conference. But the standings are so tight, Oklahoma City won't know its seeding or its playoff opponent until after the regular season ends on Sunday.
But the Barons are in. And they're as hot as any team in the league.
“It feels good to get that weight off our back and know we're in,” said Chris VandeVelde, who scored two goals. “Everything is clicking. We have a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. We're rolling.”
Since March 10, Oklahoma City has lost only three games in regulation, going 12-3-3 to charge from 10th place into the playoffs.
Yann Danis has been one of the hottest goaltenders in the league, going 10-2-3 with a 1.77 goals against average and .931 saves percentage since he returned from Edmonton.
Over the past 16 games the Barons have allowed only one power play goal their last 41 times they've been at a man disadvantage, a sizzling 97.6 percent penalty kill clip.
The only thing missing was OKC had scored only three power-play goals its previous 13 games but matched that total in one period in Saturday's playoff-clinching win, including two in the final minutes of the second period.
“You want to definitely have that going,” said Jonathan Cheechoo, who also scored two goals. “A lot of times the penalty kill and the power play is what can win or lose you games in the playoffs. It was nice to get a few. We just have to keep that rolling.”
Cheechoo scored the first power-play goal midway through the second period to break a 1-1 tie.
With OKC in a five-on-three advantage, Cheechoo scored his second goal with 29 seconds left in the period. C.J. Stretch scored another power play goal with :01 left for a commanding 4-1 lead.
Cheechoo, a 32-year-old veteran who led the NHL in goals seven years ago, signed with the Barons after the NHL lockout ended. OKC needed a scorer after four young Oilers stars returned to Edmonton.
The Barons are 9-0 when Cheechoo scores a goal and are 14-1 when he scores a point.
“We want to ride that lucky (stat) all the way through,” Cheechoo said. “I guess I just have to keep up my part and keep scoring.”
VandeVelde, who scored back-to-back, game-winning overtime goals last year against San Antonio in a second-round playoff series, scored his fourth and fifth goals of the season.
“Vandy was a big part of our success last year and down the stretch this year,” Nelson said. “You like to see a guy who works the trenches hard, and does a good job with the penalty kill get rewarded. Hopefully he's getting hot at the right time.”