Oklahoma City, OK - The Oklahoma City Barons needed a quicker start than they had in Game 1. They got it.
They needed their power-play to answer the Marlies' AHL-best PK, which went 6-for-6 Thursday night in a 5-0 win. They got that, too.
They needed to battle, compete and show up at puck drop. No complaints here, either, as goals by Mark Arcobello and Teemu Hartikainen in the opening 20 spurred the home side to a dominant 5-1 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 2 of the AHL's Western Conference Final at the Cox Convention Center in OKC.
Head Coach Todd Nelson said post-game Thursday that Toronto was the exact opposite of their previous challenger, San Antonio. Fitting term, since Game 2 was unlike anything witnessed in Game 1's debacle.
"We were ready to go," said winger Magnus Paajarvi, who collected two pivotal assists, four shots on goal and a +3 rating in the win. "It was really bad last night. They pushed us away in our own rink and that's not acceptable. It's a war out there and we've got to go out and win the battles to win the war.
"It's going to get tougher and tougher. We've got to realize that and take the challenge, and I think we did that tonight. We came together as a team and that's what matters the most."
"It was a good win," Nelson said. "It was a game that we felt we had to have. We played strong for 60 minutes and we were very determined. It was a very gritty effort. Tonight we earned the right to get the win.
"Our guys were moving tonight and were hard on their checks. We had good dump-ins so we could create a forecheck. We were a lot more physical everywhere and that's the way we need to play to be successful."
One night earlier the Barons went 0-for-6 on the power-play, but were presented with an early opportunity to grab a 1-0 lead when Marcel Mueller was charged with tripping.
1:19 into the man-advantage, Philippe Cornet delivered a pinpoint cross-crease pass to Mark Arcobello at the doorstep. The initial shot was stopped, but the Barons' leading post-season scorer made good on his rebound, popping a shot up and over an out-of-position Ben Scrivens at 4:23.
The goal snapped Scrivens' lengthy shutout streak that dated back to the Marlies' previous series vs. Abbotsford -- 110 minutes and 53 seconds in total.
And the Barons weren't done, as their whistle-to-whistle intensity extended to the period's latter stages. With only 8.9 seconds on the clock, it became a 2-0 game. Teemu Hartikainen planted himself in the high slot and, with a pass arriving when the Finn needed it to, he blasted a cruise missile past the goalie on the club's 11th shot.
"We got a great effort on that goal. It felt good," said the bench boss, referencing Paajarvi's vision (and skill) in locating a wide-open Hartikainen. "Both players worked hard, both played physical and both were skating. But we should key on all 20 guys, because they all played very well."
"That's our bread and butter," Paajarvi added.
The Marlies equaled OKC's mark on the attempts chart, registering 11 as well and in part of a three-period total of 28.
"It's all about momentum. We carried it all game long," said Cornet. "I think all series is going to be like that. Both teams were expecting tight games and we haven't had them yet, but I think going into the next one it'll tighten up and we'll see closer scores."
Toronto outshot OKC by a 9-7 margin in the second period, but Yann Danis stopped them all -- including a big-time glove save on a shorthanded breakaway by Will Acton -- while the Barons cashed on the Marlies' puck-stopper late and with momentum on their side.
At 16:49, Arcobello and Cornet hooked up once more. No. 26 quickly corralled a bouncing puck, aligned his sights on his awaiting linemate and slid a pass across where it was pounded home on a marker strikingly similar to their opening-period connection.
"That was nice of him," Cornet laughed. "He could have walked it in and scored a goal. But when you're on a 2-on-0, I think either play is good -- either a pass or shot. I passed it to him before that on the power-play and he wanted to return the favour."
In an emphatic rebound, Danis made 27 saves on 28 shots.
"We worked harder (Friday)," he said, bluntly looking back at Thursday's result. "They came at us pretty strong, they were ready and we weren't. We needed to bounce back tonight. The boys were ready and it's good to see."
The Marlies eventually got on the board with 10:49 to play as Acton's speed allowed him to break in and ruin Danis' shutout bid. He burst in on a partial break, cut around the goalie on a delayed penalty and tucked the puck into the open side to make it a 3-1 game. At that point, it was still in the balance, but an insurance marker by Chris VandeVelde at 16:25 put the game away.
Ryan Keller added an empty-netter 1:03 later.
The game was all but over, but both teams wanted the action to continue. Tanner House dropped the mitts with Acton, earning the decision in a spirited middleweight tilt. Other bouts and quick melees ensued, with a combined total of 72 penalty minutes assessed at 17:53, including game misconducts to OKC's Triston Grant and Toronto's Korbinian Holzer.
"That's playoff hockey," Danis said. "The intensity goes up a little bit, if not a lot. That's what you want to be in. You want it to be intense and you want it to be hard, because in the end it makes it so much better."
"[Toronto is] a proud bunch," Nelson added. "The playoffs are emotional and it's an emotional sport. Sometimes things happen, but I'm pretty sure Game 3 isn't going to start like it ended tonight."
The teams will now head to Toronto for Games 3, 4 and 5 at the Ricoh Coliseum. The Barons aren't concerned in the slightest, as they've been road warriors all year and have yet to lose in an opponent's barn in the post-season.
"The main thing is that we keep it simpler on the road," said Cornet, who's bumped his playoff point total to seven in 11 games. "I think most teams are like that. With the way we played tonight, we've got to keep playing like that. They're going to be at home with their crowd behind them and they're going to come out hard, so we've got to match their intensity and pressure."
"I don't know if it's a greater challenge and everybody rises to it, but we're a team that does well on the road," Paajarvi added. "It's the team through and through, because we've got a good system."
Indeed they do. Friday's result was a good reminder.. -- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow @ryandittrick