Whatever was spoken behind closed doors in the aftermath of the Abbotsford Heat’s 5-1 loss to the Peoria Rivermen on Tuesday, they were magic words.
One night after one of their worst outings of the season, the Heat put together one of their best, blanking the Rivermen 2-0 before 2,382 paying customers at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Wednesday.
“We got challenged as a team,” Heat forward Jon Rheault said, alluding to the closed-door meeting that lasted nearly a half-hour following Tuesday’s debacle. “We were told to get here for the game and be ready to play, give whatever it takes, and I think we all took that to heart.
“We’re figuring out what it takes to turn things around, and it’s directly related to our emotional attachment to the game and our work ethic. When we play like that, we’re a really good team.”
Wednesday’s victory, in many ways, was a stylistic blueprint of how the Heat must play on a regular basis in order to contend for a playoff spot. They were relentlessly physical. They dominated on the forecheck. They blocked a bushel of shots. They converted just enough of their scoring chances.
Last but not least, they got lights-out goaltending. Backup keeper J.P. Lamoureux, subbing for Leland Irving, stopped all 22 shots the Rivermen sent his way. His job was made easier by the fact his teammates were directing 37 shots at the Peoria cage.
“Good for him,” Heat head coach Jim Playfair said of Lamoureux, who posted the first AHL shutout of his career. “Leland’s played a lot of hockey, and it’s nice to have a goaltender come in and give him some relief and get a win in the meantime. I thought he played well.”
The Heat came charging out of the dressing room and played the entire first period as though they had a burr under their collective saddle, out-shooting the Rivermen 17-4 over the first 20 minutes.
The hosts registered the first seven shots of the game, but Jake Allen, the Rivermen’s all-star goalie, kept his team afloat. Off a turnover deep in the Peoria zone, Heat captain Quintin Laing had a point-blank look at Allen, but the keeper made a ridiculous glove save that left Laing looking skyward in frustration.
The Heat finally broke through late in the first period, and it was the fourth line that got the job done. Enforcer Ryley Grantham was the unlikely playmaker – from behind the net, he fed Bryan Cameron in the slot, and the rookie winger slipped a shot between Allen’s legs.
Rheault made it 2-0 at 9:14 of the second. Defenceman T.J. Brodie, the Heat’s lone representative at the upcoming AHL all-star game, came swooping around the net during a power play and feathered a pass to Rheault, who stepped into a slap shot that might as well have been a laser beam as far as Allen was concerned.
A trio of Abbotsford minor penalties later in the frame swung the momentum back Peoria’s way, but Lamoureux did his best work of the night to preserve the two-goal lead. He robbed Peoria forward Derek Nesbitt with a pair of picturesque left-pad saves on the same shift – once on a deflection, once on a shot from the slot.
The Rivermen made one final push late in the third period, after Heat forward Ryan Stone was sent to the box for interference. But with Allen on the bench for a six-on-four advantage, Lamoureux came up with a series of big saves. His teammates were intent on helping their goalie out – at one point, there were four players in white jerseys sprawling on the ice to block shots in a goalmouth scramble.
“It was a big step between last night and tonight,” Rheault observed, filing his entry in the understatement of the year contest.
“We played desperate,” he added. “A lot our problem is, we sometimes don’t realize how great we can be when we play like that. It is a tough way to play. You’ve got to be emotionally attached every single night and bring your work ethic.”
Lamoureux had his mask knocked off by a Nesbitt shot in the first period, and he said it helped get him engaged in the game.
“Coach kind of turned to me after a tough game for everyone last night, and it was good that he showed confidence to put me in in a big game against a real good team,” said Lamoureux, who has a 3-0-1 record this season. “I just wanted to try and make the most of my opportunity.”
Wednesday’s win was the Heat’s first in four tries this season against the Rivermen (26-14-3), who lead the Western Conference with 55 points. Abbotsford wrapped up a 10-game homestand with a 4-4-2 record, and hold down fifth place in the North Division at 20-18-6.
• The Heat now head out for 10 in a row away from home, beginning with a Friday-Sunday set in Winnipeg against the Manitoba Moose. Sunday’s game will be televised on CBC (10 a.m. Pacific time).
• The Heat made a pair of lineup changes Wednesday. Up front, Grantham drew back in for Logan MacMillan. Josh Meyers made his first appearance of 2011 on the blueline, replacing Keith Seabrook. Meyers had been a healthy scratch the previous seven games.