OKLAHOMA CITY – For the first time during the playoffs the Grand Rapids Griffins have lost consecutive games, falling 4-1 to the Oklahoma City Barons on Wednesday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at the Cox Convention Center.
The Barons pounced on Griffins turnovers and miscues to seize a 3-0 lead in the first period before limiting the visitors’ chances the rest of the way, yielding only a goal to Chad Billins with 4:54 left. Oklahoma City outshot Grand Rapids 33-21 on the night – on the heels of its 37-22 advantage in Game 2 on Saturday – en route to grabbing a 2-1 series lead.
The Griffins will play the second of three straight games in Oklahoma City on Friday. Game 4 will face off at 8 p.m. EDT.
A potential Barons goal 3:20 into the opening period was nullified because Taylor Fedun batted the puck into the net with a high stick, but Oklahoma City scored two more that counted before the game was nine minutes old. First, a pass in the Barons’ end slid through two Griffins and was intercepted at the point by Ben Eager, who was off to the races with Nathan Paetsch in hot pursuit. At the top of the circles, Eager teed up a slap shot that rocketed between Petr Mrazek’s pads at the 7:14 mark.
Just 1:11 later, with the Griffins preparing to break out of their zone, Riley Sheahan attempted a pass up the slot from behind his net that was picked off on the doorstep by Josh Green, who quickly turned and fired the puck inside the far post for a 2-0 Oklahoma City lead.
The Barons struck again with 3:25 left in the frame. Jeff Hoggan and Philippe Cornet got tangled up above the right circle in the Griffins’ zone with no call, and when Cornet got loose and drove unopposed to the net, he potted Brandon Davidson’s centering pass for an easy backdoor goal.
The Griffins were unable to manage much against Yann Danis, registering only six shots over each of the first two periods, but Mrazek kept them within striking distance with some stellar play during the second frame. He made several consecutive point-blank stops during a Barons power play with nine minutes remaining, then stopped a 4-on-1 break with six minutes left.
Grand Rapids finally got on the board with 4:54 left in the third, as Billins connected on a shot from the right point to ruin Danis’ shutout bid. Mrazek stopped a breakaway by Teemu Hartikainen with 3:20 remaining before leaving in favor of extra attacker, but Jonathan Cheecho provided the final margin when he picked off an errant pass by Brett Skinner and tossed the puck into the empty net with 1:17 showing on the clock.
Danis made 20 saves while Mrazek stopped 29 shots in defeat.
GAME NOTE: Over their first 34 playoff periods, including the first frame of their Game 1 victory, the Griffins were outshot only five times. The Barons have since outgunned Grand Rapids for eight straight periods.
THREE STARS: 1, Philippe Cornet, OKC (goal); 2. Josh Green, OKC (GWG); 3. Yann Danis, OKC (W, 20 saves).