Jujhar Khaira and Darnell Nurse teamed up for a pair of goals and Brad Hunt added a goal and three assists to lead the Oklahoma City Barons to a 7-4 win over the Utica Comets Wednesday night at the Cox Convention Center, evening the best-of-seven AHL Calder Cup Western Conference Semifinals series at 2-2.
In his first game of the playoffs, Nurse recorded three assists. His first gave the Barons a 1-0 lead at 9:30 of the first period, when he centered a pass to the front of the net, where Khaira chipped the puck past Utica goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Khaira and Nurse combined once again for Oklahoma City’s fourth goal at 17:34 of the second period, when again Nurse skidded the puck toward the net and Khaira redirected it past Markstrom to give the Barons a 4-3 lead.
Hunt assisted on the Barons’ second, third and fifth goals, and scored an empty-netter at 17:15 of the third, firing a slap shot from the left circle of the OKC zone that sailed into the center of the vacant Utica net, making the score 7-4. Nurse tallied his third assist on the play.
Oklahoma City was 4-for-7 on the power play, with Khaira’s and Hunt’s goals the even-strength scores.
For a third consecutive game, the Barons were outshot by Utica, 42-24. Barons goaltender Richard Bachman made 38 saves, while Markstrom stopped a pedestrian 17. Utica played the final 5:30 with an empty net and extra attacker.
After Khaira’s first goal gave the Barons a 1-0 lead, Utica’s Hunter Shinkaruk tied the game at 16:21 of the first period, when he wristed a shot from the left-wing circle that caromed off the post and Bachman’s back before trickling into the net. The play was reviewed and upheld by officials.
The Barons took a 2-1 lead 1:16 into the second period. On the power play stemming from a cross-checking penalty to Utica’s Alex Biega in the final second first period play, Hunt sent a shot from the point that was initially knocked down by Markstrom, but OKC’s Andrew Miller jammed the puck through the goalie’s pads for the Barons’ first power play score of the game.
Goals by Utica’s Sven Baertschi at 6:50 and Alex Friesen at 11:34 of the second period gave the Comets a 3-2 lead.
At 13:08 of the second, Hunt sent a shot on net from the right circle that bounced high off Markstrom’s chest, allowing Matt Ford to bat the puck out of the air and past the Utica net minder, knotting the score at three. The goal extended Ford’s playoff point streak to seven games – the entirety of the Barons playoff schedule thus far.
Following Khaira’s second goal that gave the Barons a 4-3 lead, Oklahoma City’s lead grew to 5-3 when Markstrom chased a puck behind the Utica net and his clearing attempt slid to OKC’s Ryan Hamilton, who pushed the puck toward the vacant net, giving the Barons their first multi-goal lead of the series.
Two minutes, seventeen seconds later, Brandon Davidson scored on a wrist shot from the right circle that found its way through Markstrom’s pads to extend the Barons’ lead to 6-3.
Playing with an extra attacker late in the third period, Utica’s Brendan Gaunce cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 6-4, grabbing a pass from Friesen in the right circle and rifling a shot over Bachman’s glove.
The late empty-netter was the first goal of the playoffs for Hunt, who tied for the lead in goals among AHL defenseman during the regular season with 19.
Game Five is scheduled for 7 p.m., Thursday at the Cox Convention Center.