The Abbotsford Heat did a lot of things right against the AHL’s top team on Saturday evening, only to have their good works rendered null and void by Yann Danis.
The Oklahoma City Barons goalie saw his lengthy shutout streak snapped in the third period on a tremendous individual effort by Heat centre Ben Walter, but he was otherwise spectacular as his team eked out a 2-1 win at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Kirill Tulupov’s third-period goal stood up as the game-winner, and Danis stopped 24 of 25 shots, including a highlight-reel pad save on Heat forward Adam Estoclet in the dying seconds to preserve the victory for his team.
“He was a bit off tonight – he let one in,” Barons head coach Todd Nelson joked afterward, alluding to the fact Danis had posted shutouts his previous two starts.
“He gives us a chance to win every night, and I can’t say enough about him.”
Danis was excellent from the opening faceoff on Saturday, stoning the Heat on a pair of early chances. First, he stymied Carter Bancks on a two-on-one break with a glove save.
Shortly thereafter, Heat forward Judd Blackwater fed Raitis Ivanans from behind the net, but Danis kicked out his right pad to rob the Latvian enforcer of a sure goal.
After the Ivanans stop, the Barons carried the play for the balance of the first period, and opened the scoring on a Linus Omark goal at the 14:49 mark. Swooping down the right wing on the rush, Omark’s centering pass was broken up, but the puck bounced right back to him in the slot, and he flicked a wrist shot past Heat goalie Henrik Karlsson, who was moving the other way on the play.
The Heat turned in a solid second-period performance, but couldn’t coax the puck past Danis despite an 11-7 edge in shots. On a howitzer of a slap shot by Akim Aliu from the right circle, Danis got just enough of it with his glove that the puck floated just over the crossbar and rolled over the top of the net.
Later, on a Heat power play, Ryan Howse and Bancks had cracks at a loose puck at the top of the Barons crease, but Danis stood his ground.
Karlsson made some fine stops in the middle frame as well – most notably, he extended his left pad to stone Omark on a deke after the latter was left alone in front of the net on an OKC power play.
With his team starving for a goal, Walter came through with gritty effort at 4:23 of the third. The veteran forward carried the puck with speed into the Barons zone, and OKC blueliner Colten Teubert stepped up to meet him. The puck slid into Teubert’s skates, but Walter pushed Teubert backward and reclaimed the biscuit, then flicked it top-corner over Danis’s glove.
The goal snapped a shutout streak of 173:16 for Danis, dating back to the third period of a victory over the Houston Aeros on Dec. 27 and continuing through shutout wins over the San Antonio Rampage on Jan. 2 and the Heat on Thursday. (The AHL record is 249:51, set by Hockey Hall of Famer Johnny Bower back in 1951 with the Cleveland Barons).
But just past the midway point of the final frame, Tulupov hammered a slap shot from the right point that found its way through a maze of bodies in front of Karlsson. It was Tulupov’s first career AHL goal, and Karlsson never saw it.
“Sometimes you just wonder how the puck goes through so many guys,” Karlsson lamented afterward. “It’s a credit to them – they crashed the net, and it was a good shot.”
With 8.1 seconds left in the third period and Karlsson on the bench for an extra attacker, the Heat won a faceoff in the Barons’ zone and Clay Wilson ripped a shot from the point that was turned aside by Danis. Estoclet, making his Heat debut after being acquired from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Friday, pounced on the rebound and fired a shot from point-blank range, but Danis kicked out his left pad to finish off an evening of larceny.
Walter and Danis were teammates back in 2008-09 with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the New York Islanders’ AHL affiliate. The Heat centre said he’s always had a lot of respect for the 30-year-old keeper, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.94) and is tied for first in wins (21).
“You could tell he was going to be really good back then,” Walter recalled. “He’s one of the top goalies in this league, for sure.
“It’s just one of those things – you’ve got to keep getting pucks at him and get some rebounds, and hopefully one of them goes in.”
The Barons boosted their AHL-best record to 32-12-2-3, while the Heat (26-20-3-0) lost for the eighth time in their last 10 games. They’ve been shut out four times in that span, and head coach Troy Ward said his team’s confidence is at a low ebb.
“Confidence is a funny thing, and so is love,” he mused. “If you don’t have love, it’s tough to be in a relationship. And if you don’t have confidence, it’s tough to win hockey games.
“I can tell you, this group right now, we’re really struggling with confidence.”
The Heat roster, already decimated by injuries and call-ups, endured another subtraction on Friday, when centre Roman Horak was summoned by the Calgary Flames to fill in for Blair Jones, out with a broken ankle.
Abbotsford was dealt a further blow Saturday, when recently acquired all-star defenceman Brian Connelly retreated to the dressing room in the second period and did not return. No update on his status was available post-game.
• The Heat are back in action on home ice next weekend, when they host the Houston Aeros in a Friday-Saturday set at the AESC (7 p.m. both nights).
Heat goalie Henrik Karlsson tracks the puck as Chris Breen battles a Barons forward in front of the net. (Amy Williams Photography)