The Chicago Blackhawks opened the lockout-shortened season with an NHL-record 24-game streak without losing in regulation. Their second regulation loss in early March was against the Edmonton Oilers.
With Barons goaltender Yann Danis in net.
Subbing for Edmonton starter Devan Dubnyk, injured late in the second period, Danis recorded 12 saves, including 10 in the third period to preserve a 6-5 Oilers win.
Danis surrendered two goals. It was his first NHL win in three years. Collecting a win against the NHL's best team sparked Danis, who saw little time in net during his two months with Edmonton and wasn't as sharp early in the season with the Barons.
“That game against Chicago gave me a lot of confidence,” Danis said. “Coming back here, I felt really good.”
Since he returned from Edmonton, Danis has looked like the player who last season was named the American Hockey League Goaltender of the Year.
Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Barons are on the brink of clinching their third consecutive playoff berth.
One key reason Oklahoma City has finished strong is Danis. He has gone 8-2-3 with a 1.80 goals against average and .929 saves percentage since he returned.
“You sort of get in a zone,” Danis said. “The puck seems bigger. You seem to find it quicker. But it's not just me. We're not the same team as we were earlier in the season, especially defensively. We're not giving up as many chances.”
Danis, from Lafontaine Quebec, posted his first shutout of the season on a recent four-game road trip. He has allowed two or less goals in 11 of the 13 games since he returned.
“He's played more consistently, which helps to where you start feeling really confident,” said Barons coach Todd Nelson. “We're also defending better in front of him, not giving up as many quality chances. Yann has been playing well. With our defense improving, that's a good combination.”
Forward Teemu Hartikainen spent much of the post-lockout in Edmonton but recently returned to Oklahoma City. Hartikainen was with the Barons last season, when Danis helped the Barons reach the Western Conference finals.
“Yann always picks it up when spring is coming because he knows how important this time of year is,” Hartikainen said. “He's a veteran who makes big stops. We know with Yann back there, if we play well, we will always have a chance at a win.”
Danis, 31, has spent the bulk of his career in the minors but has posted 17 NHL wins, the majority (10) coming during the 2008-09 season as the New York Islanders backup.
A hot goaltender can carry a team in the playoffs. Having a veteran like Danis, who has posted 147 career AHL wins, the Barons could make a run when the playoffs start next week. Oklahoma City needs three standings points to clinch a playoff berth — and it's final three games of the regular season are this weekend in the Cox Center.
OKC hosts Abbotsford at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Houston is here at 4 p.m. Sunday.
“Defense wins championships,” Danis said. “It starts on the back end. We know with this team goals will come. We have some momentum. Once you get in the playoffs anything can happen.”