OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla – Finish goaltender Niko Hovinen earned his first shutout of the season, and of his career in North America. Fellow Fin Toni Rajala scored the first goal six minutes into the second period. Chris VandeVelde scored two goals, en route to the Barons earning 40 wins for three consecutive seasons.
“It is nice to get a shut out on the last game of the season,” said Hovinen.
When facing division rivals, the physical play is expected. Only one penalty was called in the first period.
The second period would be very different. VandeVelde, a crucial member of the penalty kill unit tallied a short-handed goal on a rush up center ice with line mate Tanner House. A Houston defenseman pushed House into the Aeros goaltender, who fell to the ice. VandeVelde’s shot sailed over the goaltender. Houston protested, however the score stood.
“He [VandeVelde] is a big part of our penalty kill,” said Coach Nelson. “He has developed into a good two-way centerman. I can put him out there in any situation.”
The last 35 seconds of the second period resulted in 18 penalty minutes being assessed. With the Barons resting several key players, the “new guys” were thrown into the mix of a very physical Houston team. At the beginning of the third period, each penalty box had three players serving time.
Late in the third period, the score was 2-0 in favor of Oklahoma City. With 20 seconds remaining in the contest, the Houston goaltender was headed for the bench as VandeVelde shot the puck from his own blue line. The shot sailed thru the neutral zone and into the recently vacated Aeros net. Technically this did not qualify for an empty net goal, as the goaltender was still on the ice.
“Sometimes emotions run high, especially against Houston,” said Nelson. “We have a good history if you like rivalries.”
Prior to this week, VandeVelde had only scored three goals all season. His two goals on Saturday and again on Sunday resulted in him more than doubling his scoring for the season as well as earning multiple goals in back-to-back games.
The Barons won by a score of 3-0. Hovinen’s shut out added to Oklahoma City’s record of 3 shut outs in five games. Shots on goal for the game were 31 to 20 in the Barons favor. “The majority of the time, it means that we are controlling the game,” said Nelson.
Reaching win number 40 seemed elusive. “It looked like it was not going to happen,” said Nelson. “we knew we had to win every game this weekend to get there. We did it three years in a row, it feels pretty good.” With three shut outs in five games from two different goaltenders, the Barons have the momentum. “Yann [Danis] and Niko [Hovinen] are playing well,” said VandeVelde. “It helps when they are your best penalty killers. If the PK is good in the play-offs, who knows what will happen.”
The Barons will be seeded number five, and will face the Charlotte Checkers as the number four seed. The best-of-five game quarter final series starts Friday in Oklahoma City. “It is going to be a tough series,” said Nelson. “It is going to come down to who executes the best and special teams will play a role.”
Comparing the regular season records the Checkers are 42-26-4-4 while the Barons are 40-25-2-9. The Barons and the Checkers split the season 4-4. Six of those eight games were after the NHL lockout was resolved.
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