On Thursday night at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Barons had the opportunity to eliminate the Texas Stars and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season. The Barons did exactly that and continued their utter supremacy over the Stars in game five, clobbering the Stars 5-1 and eliminating the number-one-ranked team in the AHL west.
Five different Barons’ players scored and Yann Danis had another fantastic game in goal, stopping all but one of the 34 shots directed his way.
Teemu Hartikainen opened the scoring at 17:21 of the first period. Line mate Toni Rajala threaded a sneaky pass over to Hartikainen, whose quick shot from the left faceoff circle surprised Stars’ goalie Christopher Nilstrop and bounced in off the netminder’s arm.
The Barons extended their lead in the second when Marc Arcobello assisted on a nifty goal by defenseman Taylor Fedun. Fedun joined a speedy odd-man rush into the Stars’ zone, collected a perfect pass from Arcobello and went forehand to backhand in the slot to fake out Nilstrop, beating the goaltender with a low shot.
Rajala collected his second helper of the game in the middle frame after the winger jumped on a loose puck in the Stars’ zone and slid a pass over to C.J. Stretch who was all alone in front and simply tapped the puck into the empty side of the net.
The Barons carried the three-nothing lead into the third period and capitalized on an early power play when Garrett Stafford slapped a shot passed a screened Nilstrop.
Arcobello added to his play off totals halfway through the third period, scoring his ninth goal of the post season and putting the Barons up five-nothing, but Star’s forward Justin Dowling ruined the shutout for Danis when he scored on the power play with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
The Barons have been on fire in this year’s playoffs and they are getting better every game. The team has a record of 20-6-3 in its last 29 games—including a 13-3-3 record to finish the regular season. In their series against the Stars, the Barons outscored Texas 16-4 in the final three games, displaying the team’s highly-potent offense and the near-perfect goaltending by Danis.
With nine goals and six assists, Arcobello is tied for the most points in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Rajala and Hartikainen are not that far behind, amassing thirteen and eleven points respectively.
You might say the Barons have overachieved this season; however, they were in this same position last year and were eliminated by a team they may face again in the conference finals this year: the Toronto Marlies.
Actually, the Barons will face the winner of the series between the Marlies and the Grand Rapids Griffins. Currently, the Griffins lead the series three games to two, with game six scheduled for May 21 in Toronto.
Regardless of what team the Barons play in the next round, Oklahoma City will play the first two games on the road and come home for games three and four. Game five, if needed, will also be played in OKC.