Barry Brust kept the Texas Stars at bay just long enough for his Abbotsford Heat teammates to come alive in the shootout.
Brust turned aside 39 of 40 shots in regulation and overtime, and T.J. Brodie, Roman Horak and Krys Kolanos scored in stylish fashion in the breakaway contest as the Heat pulled off a 2-1 victory on Saturday at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.
Coming off a 3-1 loss on Friday, it was certainly a grind for the hosts in the rematch, as they were out-shot 40-27. But Brust – as he has been so often this season – was borderline unbeatable.
“The team plays with an awful lot of confidence when he’s back there,” Heat centre Ben Street said of Brust, who lowered his AHL-best goals against average to 1.17 and boosted his save percentage to .953.
“There’s a bit more swagger when he’s in net, it feels like. He’s a pretty confident guy, and I think he’s starting to get some good chemistry with our D as well. It helps the breakout when he’s out there playing like a third defenceman.”
Brust got to work early, as the Stars out-shot the Heat 16-9 in the opening frame but had nothing to show for it. The Abby keeper’s best save came on a point-blank shot from Alex Chiasson on a Texas power play.
The Stars got to Brust at 5:13 of the second, capitalizing on a two-man advantage. With Heat centre Max Reinhart already in the box for tripping, Joe Callahan was dispatched to the sin bin seven seconds later for high-sticking. Matt Fraser made Abbotsford pay, hammering home a one-timed slap shot off a feed from Jordie Benn.
Heat head coach Troy Ward was clearly none too thrilled – Reinhart and Callahan spent the balance of the second period stapled to the bench.
The Heat equalized less than three minutes later on a power play of their own. They spent much of the man advantage struggling to corral the puck along the boards in the offensive zone, but it squirted to Ben Street at the hashmarks and he whipped a pass across to Krys Kolanos at the far post. Kolanos tapped it in for his fifth of the season.
“I kind of had an idea he might be over there,” Street recounted. “I took a quick look before the puck got there and figured, ‘OK here we go, this is our chance.’ They (the Stars) do a good job killing penalties, so you almost need a broken play to break them down.”
The Stars generated several great looks at Brust, but the Heat keeper stood his ground. On a Texas power play, Travis Morin was sent in alone on a clear breakaway, but Brust stoned him with his blocker.
In overtime, Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak had a great chance to end it, jumping into the play and taking a drop pass in the slot. But Brust was there again, making a huge glove save.
“It’s easier to play (when facing a lot of shots),” Brust said. “You get into a rhythm, and you feel a little better.
“It’s an easy game to kind of get into, and once you’re into it, you feel good.”
The Heat put on a show in the shootout – Brodie and Horak undressed Stars goalie Jack Campbell with backhand-forehand dekes, and Kolanos clinched the victory by getting Campbell to lean forward before flicking the puck over his glove.
“You don’t want to face him as a goalie,” Brust said of Kolanos. “I don’t think he got everything he wanted on his goal in the shootout, but he’s so good offensively. When it’s him and the goalie, it’s pretty special to watch.”
The Heat (15-5-6, 36 points) lead the Western Conference, but they’re weathering a dry spell offensively. They’ve mustered just nine goals in their last seven games, and were fortunate to get the two points on Saturday.
“It’s been a little bit of a tough stretch for us,” Ward acknowledged. “We haven’t played probably as well as we did earlier in the year, but that’s inevitable. I thought the thing that did come out tonight was a little bit of our resiliency, which we showed earlier in the year . . . We didn’t have a great weekend series, but we hung in there.
“We were a little sharper mentally – that was the difference. We were a little more on top of it. But our skill level, some of our puck play and things like that, still isn’t where it has been in the past.”
Ward hasn’t been shy about challenging Kolanos publicly to up his level of play, and the Heat’s leading scorer last season came through with a couple of big plays on Saturday.
“Krys’s game last night showed some things better than they have been so far this year, and I think he took another step tonight,” Ward said. “And just to see him play through two healthy games, he hasn’t been able to do that yet in some ways either. That was good for him. Good things are happening there, but it’s been slow.”
• Up next for the Heat is a six-game road trip, and they open against the Chicago Wolves on Wednesday.