Similar to Game 1, the only time the Oklahoma City Barons trailed Saturday night at the Cox Convention Center was when the Texas Stars celebrated a game-winning overtime goal.
The Barons were on the brink of tying the best-of-five series before American Hockey League MVP Travis Morin scored late in regulation to tie it. The Stars won 3-2 on Brendan Ranford’s goal with 4:56 left in the sudden-death extra period.
“Give them credit. They’re tenacious,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “They threw the puck at the net and all of a sudden it’s chaos. We had a couple of guys out there that were tired, a little overextended.”
Morin, who scored both of Texas’ regulation goals, tied the game 2-2 with 39.8 seconds left after the Stars pulled goaltender Jack Campbell to insert an extra skater. Morin also had the key assist on Ranford’s game-winner
Posting back-to-back overtime wins in Oklahoma City, the Stars own a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series. The series shifts to the Cedar Park Center for Game 3 Wednesday night. If necessary, Game 4 would be played Friday night, Game 5 Saturday night.
The Barons owned a 2-0 lead in Game 1 on Wednesday night but lost 3-2 in overtime.
“If you start doing the thinking game about how we could be up 2-0 instead of down 2-0 you don’t need that in our minds,” said defenseman Brad Hunt. “We have to learn from this, go to Texas and get three in their barn."
This 3-2 overtime loss was even more disheartening since they were less than a minute away from tying the series.
Like in Game 1, the Barons grabbed the early lead when Roman Horak scored on a breakaway early in the first period on an assist from team captain Anton Lander.
The Stars answered with a power play goal in the waning seconds of the second period from Morin with 17.2 seconds left in the period.
The Barons were viewed as a dangerous No. 8 seed because several AHL tested veterans were re-assigned to Oklahoma City after the NHL season ended two weeks ago, but it was a kid that put the Barons up 2-1 in the third period.
Jujhar Khaira, a 19-year-old center who joined the Barons late in the season after finishing his junior career, scored with 8:03 left in regulation to give Oklahoma City a 2-1 lead.
Khaira grabbed the puck out of the air with his hand and dropped it to the ice — a legal maneuver — then flipped the puck past Texas goaltender Jack Campbell with 8:03 remaining.
“It was a great shot, a great individual effort to beat a goalie that was playing really well,” Nelson said. “He kept it simple and drove hard to the net. That line has been very strong. It was nice to see them get rewarded.”
In six regular-season games with the Barons, Khaira didn’t score a point, much less a goal after scoring 43 points, including 16 goals, for Everett in the Western Hockey League
Oklahoma City and Texas feature two of the league’s top power-play units but in the first two games of the series the Stars are 2-of-7 with the man advantage while the Barons are 0-of-7.
A suspect Barons defense that allowed the most shots this season in the 30-team AHL hasn’t been an issue in the first two games against the Stars, who finished second in the league in scoring.
Richard Bachman, the 26-year-old veteran goaltender who last season was the backup goalie for Texas’ NHL parent team, the Dallas Stars, has recorded 66 saves the first two games.
Texas goalie Christopher Nilstorp, who was torched in last year’s Western Conference semifinal series the Barons won in five games, started Game 1, but the Stars started 22-year-old prospect Jack Campbell in Game 2.
After posting a dazzling 12-2-2 record with a 1.49 goals against average and .942 saves percentage during the regular season, Campbell made several key stops to help the Stars seize control of the series.
Shots on goal have been relatively even the first two games. The Stars owned a slim 33-28 edge in Game 1. Oklahoma City owned a 40-39 advantage in Game 2.
Texas has added motivation. The Stars were the Western Conference’s top seed last season but were dominated in a best-of-seven semifinal series.
The Stars won Game 1 in last year’s playoffs, but the Barons reeled off four straight wins. Oklahoma City won Game 2 to gain a split on the road then dominated the three games at the Cox Center. The Barons won by a combined 16-4 score, posting 4-0, 7-3 and 5-1 wins.