The Oklahoma City Barons’ power play was the difference-maker as the Utica Comets dropped Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals 7-4 Wednesday night at The Cox Convention Center. The Barons capitalized on four out of their six power-play chances, which enabled them to tie the second round series 2-2.
“They have a good PP,” said Head Coach Travis Green. “We are going to give up power-play chances but we can’t give up six of them. We have to play with more discipline.”
Alex Friesen (1-1-2),
(1-0-1), Brendan Gaunce (1-0-1), and Sven Baertschi netted the Comets’ goals during Friday night’s game. Travis Ehrhardt (0-2-2), along with Friesen enjoyed multi-point nights.
Darnell Nurse, in his first appearance of the postseason for the Barons, made an impact early on during the first stanza. Nurse recorded his first assist 9:30 into the game after he raced down the left wing boards and fed a pass through a defender’s legs and directly onto Jujhar Khaira stick for the one-goal lead.
At 16:21 of the first period, the Comets found the equalizer after Shinkaruk released an innocent looking shot from the left circle. The puck rang off the left post, off Richard Bachman’s back, and just barely squeaked across the goal line for Shinkaruk’s third goal of the playoffs.
The second period saw a combined total of five goals which the Barons kicked off just 1:16 into the period on the power play. Brad Hunt made the goal possible with a shot from the right point, but it was Andrew Miller who buried the rebound for the Barons’ 2-1 lead.
Utica didn’t keep quiet as they answered back on the power play just short of six minutes later after Bobby Sanguinetti took a blast from the center point. After Alexandre Grenier deflected the Sanguinetti blast, the puck bounced to Baertschi who popped it into the net to erase the one-goal deficit.
An odd center ice collision led to the Comets next goal. The collision led to a two man breakaway for Friesen and Ehrhardt. Ehrhardt fired the initial shot which Bachman saved, but Friesen was there to backhand it past the sprawled out goaltender to give the Comets their lone lead of the night.
“Sometimes the bounces come,” Friesen said on his two game goal-scoring streak.
The game began to unravel for the Comets as Jacob Markstrom took a delay of game penalty after knocking his goal off of the moorings. Oklahoma beat Markstrom on a controversial goal just ten seconds into the power play after Matthew Ford batted the puck out of the air and into the right side of the net for their second power-play goal to make it a tie game once again. The goal was immediately waived off due to a high-stick by referee Terry Koharski who was positioned on the goal line. He changed his mind and deemed it a good goal after he convened with the rest of his crew.
Oklahoma’s Khaira closed out the second period’s scoring frenzy after a shot from Nurse led to a tip in front of the net as Khaira made it a 4-3 game with 2:26 left in the period.
The Barons’ power play kept rolling in the third with a fortunate bounce. Markstrom left his cage to play a dumped in puck, but the puck had other plans as it took an awkward bounce off of a stanchion and right onto Ryan Hamilton’s stick in the slot. Hamilton did not miss the gaping net and gave the Barons their first two-goal lead of the series.
The Barons’ fourth power-play goal came just two minutes later as Brandon Davidson tried to pass the puck but was blocked by a Comets defensemen. Davidson improvised as he quickly picked the puck back up and shot it only to catch Markstrom off guard and sneak past him at 11:29 to make it 6-3.
After pulling Markstrom with 6:29 left in the game, Brendan Gaunce went on to score another goal for the Comets at 16:56 but an empty net goal from Brad Hunt finished the game off with a final score of 7-4.
Wednesday night’s game saw a combined total of 18 minors, which equates to a total of 36 penalty minutes.
With the series tied, the Comets and Barons are guaranteed at least two more games with the next being played this Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET at none other than the Cox Convention Center before the best-of-seven series shifts back to The Utica Memorial Auditorium.