With a chance to retake first place in the West Division, Milwaukee’s normally dormant shootout skills caught fire Tuesday night, going a perfect four-for-four against Oklahoma City to deliver a 4-3 home win.
Admirals shooters Mark Santorelli, Mark Van Guilder, Gabriel Bourque and Ryan Thang all converted, while goaltender Jeremy Smith stopped two of three Oklahoma City attempts to preserve the victory.
With the two points, Milwaukee moves back into first place at 89 points. The Admirals now sit one point clear of Houston, which lost 3-0 to Texas tonight.
Riding a fast start, Milwaukee opened the scoring 14:34 into the hockey game. Off a transition pass from Teemu Laakso, Ryan Thang’s bad angle shot from the bottom of the right face off dot caught goaltender Jeff Deslauriers sliding and squeezed through the five-hole.
“It was quick little regroup play,” said Thang at the first intermission. “I beat their defense back up the ice, but I got a little lucky with the shot.”
In the final minute of the first period, Oklahoma City countered after Thang took a slashing penalty. On their fourth rebound opportunity, Anthony Aiello scored into a wide-open Milwaukee net.
The Admirals regained a one-goal advantage seven minutes into the second period on a brilliant play from Roman Josi and Chris Mueller. Off a breakout Josi found Mueller at center ice with a step on Aiello. With a tape-to-tape 100-foot stretch pass, Josi sprung Mueller on a breakaway. Mueller finished off the play with a brilliant deke.
Seven minutes later the Barons again tied the game, this time with a deflection goal by Andrew Lord. Lord, who dressed for a pair of games with Milwaukee earlier this season, had his first AHL goal of 2010-2011 find twine off of goaltender Jeremy Smith’s mask.
Milwaukee countered yet again at the 17:38 mark of the second period, this time on the power play. After Josi busted his stick, Andreas Thuresson found Kelsey Wilson alone in front of Deslauriers. Wilson tucked a backhand shot through his legs, through Deslauriers’ wickets and across the goal line for a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.
Pressing in the third period, Oklahoma City peppered Smith, finally scoring on a five-on-three power play in the last four minutes. Mark Arcobello scored the tying goal on one-timer off of a cross-crease pass from Brad Moran.
Overtime saw bizarre string of four minor penalties in quick succession, resulting in an extended period of four-on-three and five-on-three power play time for Milwaukee, but the Admirals only managed a couple of marginal chances to leave the game tied at three after 65 minutes.
Despite allowing three goals on 38 shots, Smith was superb. But the Admirals netminder saved his best save for the overtime, stretching across for a highlight reel right leg stop on a three-on-one in the first minute of overtime.
Smith now has 12 wins this season and sports a record of 12-6-2.
“The win felt really good for our team,” Smith said. “We really stuck with it and played well tonight, but were not thinking of anything else other than finishing in first place.”
With Nashville’s 3-1 win over Edmonton tonight, the Predators organization went 2-0 against the Oilers organization on Tuesday. Thanks to the one point gained, the Barons move up to 82 on the year to take over solo possession of fourth place in the West Division.
Milwaukee continues the home stand Friday night with their final regular season meeting with Chicago.
Tonight’s Admirals lineup (starters in ALL-CAPS):
Goaltender: JEREMY SMITH
Defense: AARON JOHNSON-BRETT PALIN
Roman Josi-Teemu Laakso
Grant Lewis-Scott Ford
Forwards: KELSEY WILSON-MARK VAN GUILDER-ANDREAS THURESSON
Dylan Hunter-Mike Bartlett-Ryan Flynn
Gabriel Bourque-Chris Mueller-Ryan Thang
Brock McBride-Connor Shields-Mark Santorelli
Injury updates: Forward Steve Begin is getting close to returning according to coach Lane Lambert. Both Mark Dekanich and Linus Klasen remain a long distance away from returning.
Some questions for discussion:
1) With 10 games to play in the regular season, has Milwaukee finally found some playoff security with win 38 of the year?
2) Would Oklahoma City be a favorable match up for Milwaukee in the first round of the AHL playoffs?
3) Tonight was an on/off night for the Milwaukee power play. Are some of the missing go-to scorers, Jonathon Blum, Blake Geoffrion and Linus Klasen, holding the special teams back?