OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — The Barons offense was clicking, as they scored three goals within nine minutes of the opening period in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.
At 3:20 it appeared the Barons had scored a goal, by the score was waived off for high sticking. The Griffins turn-over was costly as veteran Ben Eager scored on a breakaway at 7:14. This was a 25-foot wrist shot, and his first goal of the post-season. Rookie defenseman Andrew Hotham earned the assist on the long pass.
Oklahoma City would add a second score on the interception of a clearing pass in front of the Griffins goaltender. This unassisted goal from team captain Josh Green put the home team ahead by two goals. “I knew he was going to try to shoot it up the boards somewhere,” said Green. “I just put my stick in the lane just hoping to get a piece of it somehow. It was pretty lucky play to have it bounce right there.”
After the distraction of a shoving match near the bottom of the rightwing circle, and a poorly timed line change for the Griffins, Philippe Cornet got open for a pass from rookie defenseman Brandon Davidson. This was the Barons’ ninth shot on goal, and the third goal of the opening period.
With only 6:58 minutes into the second period, Grand Rapids forward and former Baron Tristan Grant knocked centerman Tanner House unconscious The hit was behind the play, and it wasn’t until Ben Eager pursued Triston Grant, that medical assistance arrived for House.
Eager traveled some distance to chase down Grant, who was waiting with his gloves off. Both players were assessed fighting penalties, however Eager was handed an instigating penalty, an instigating misconduct, and a game misconduct. “I’ve never seen anyone knocked out cold from a shoulder-to-shoulder hit,” said Eager. “I just don’t know how the ref doesn’t make a call when someone is out cold on the ice. That is why I was frustrated with the ref.”
House was carried off on a stretcher and transported to the hospital. Teammate Alex Plant accompanied House in the ambulance. With House out, and Eager having an early exit, the Barons were down two players on the same line. Only Antti Tyrvainen remained from the fourth line.
At the conclusion of the second period, a conference was held at center ice with both team captains, and all for on-ice officials. The conversation was the officials considered the Grant hit a “shoulder-to-shoulder” hit on House. “That is the way they saw it on the ice. Obviously they will look at it on video,” said Green.
Between the flush of a three goal first period, and House being knocked unconscious in the second period, the thought of a shut-out for the Barons, was beginning to be over looked. The Griffins ruined Yann Danis shut-out bid, with five minutes remaining in the game.
With Griffins Luke Glendening and Barons Toni Rajala sitting in the penalty box, and goaltender Petr Mrazek pulled for an extra skater, the visitors had a five-on-four advantage. This strategy paid off, as Chad Billins scored on a deflection from a Barons’ stick. This was Billins second score of the post-season, the assists when to Brett Skinner and Francis Pare.
Mrazek returned to the net for the ensuing face off, however he left the net with 2:54 remaining in the game. Baron’s veteran forward Jonathan Cheechoo scored an empty net goal on a shot from the neutral zone. “its is always nice to score; it is more important that we got the win here, go up two games to one,” said Cheechoo. “Yann has played amazing for us. it was too bad we didn’t get him the shut out.”
The Barons won by a score of 4 to 1. “It puts us I a good spot for Friday night, it is a swing game,” said Coach Todd Nelson. “You want to keep the gas on and keep playing hard.” Oklahoma City held their opponents to 21 shots on goal. Oklahoma city has outshot Grand Rapids in seven straight periods.
Goaltender Danis stopped 20 of 21 shots for the evening. “I thought we played really well, a good 60 minutes,” said Danis. “You hear about how game three is always important in a series. We are expecting a lot more from them next game, obviously.”
The penalty kill has been perfect in this series, not allowing the Griffins to score a power-play goal. “Our PK has been very strong,” said Nelson. “That has to continue for us to have success. I wish our power-play would score a few goals here and there.”
The series continues with Games 4 and 5 being played in Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday.
The well being of centerman House was on Nelson’s mind after the game. “I have watched the video numerous times; from my standpoint it was a head shot. It doesn’t get any clearer than that,” said Nelson. “My opinion is that the league can deal with it themselves.”
Ticket revenue from Game 3 and the fundraising efforts from Wednesdays night’s game was donated to the United Way “OK Strong” Disaster Relief Fund for those affected by the tornadoes on May 19th and 20th. Between the ticket revenue, the donations, and the matching funds from the Funk family Express franchise, a total of $50,000 was raised.
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