Looking like the team that made a run to the Western Conference finals the past two years, the Oklahoma City Barons scored two early goals and played solid defense to post a 2-1 win over the Milwaukee Admirals on Saturday night in front of 6,196 fans at the Cox Convention Center.
The Barons have surrendered 135 goals this season, the second most in the 30-team American Hockey League. But in Saturday's win, the Barons never trailed.
“I'd always prefer to have more than a one-goal lead but it did maybe have the flavor from two years ago,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “We played pretty good defensively and (Richard) Bachman was excellent in net. It was a solid win.”
After killing off a five-on-three penalty midway through the first period, Will Acton and Brad Hunt scored goals late in the opening period to give the Barons a 2-0 lead.
“We've been coming from behind so often it was great having the lead,” Hunt said. “Knowing we don't have to play in desperation mode late we can just play our game.”
The two early goals were enough for Bachman, who recorded 32 saves for his seventh win of the season.
Bachman's highlight saves were stopping a rebound with his glove near the goal line early in the third period and a key stop late in the game that preserved the 2-1 lead.
“He had four or five quality saves that were outstanding,” Nelson said. “The save he made in the second period was exceptional when they were trying to jam the puck in. That save he made late in the third when the net came off (the posts) was the game in a nutshell.”
Milwaukee cut the lead to 2-1 on Michael Liambas' goal late in the second period, but it was the only goal against Bachman.
“It's nice having the lead going into the third period,” Bachman said. “It allows us to be a little more defensive-minded. We're not chasing the game. You force them to make plays they normally wouldn't have to make.
“We took away the middle and got pucks deep. It was a good third period, a good learning game how to play with the lead.”
Milwaukee outshot the Barons 33-25, including 9-4 in the final period, but Bachman and the defense prevented the Admirals from registering the tying goal.
“It forces them to play a different game because they're playing catch-up mode,” Hunt said. “When you have the lead that's when the other team has to do things outside their comfort zone. We need to keep coming out strong like that. Scoring the first goal is huge.”
The win ended a season-worst, three-game home losing streak. The Barons close out a seven-game homestand at 4 p.m. Sunday against Milwaukee.
“It's starting to come around,” Hunt said. “You can see it. The younger guys are coming around. We're gaining more and more confidence which is awesome.”