The Hamilton Bulldogs rode the steady goaltending of Robert Mayer and a tenacious penalty-killing unit to a bounce-back victory on Saturday.
Mayer stopped 36 of 37 shots and Greg Pateryn scored a late winner as the Bulldogs defeated the Texas Stars 2-1 in the American Hockey League.
Hamilton was coming off a deflating 3-0 loss at home to the Chicago Wolves the night prior.
"That's what's good about hockey: when you don't play well one night, you have the chance to redeem yourself quickly," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "(Mayer) played great, and he gave us a chance to win.
"The penalty kill was good and when the penalty kill is good, the best penalty killer is usually your goalie."
Jason DeSantis also had a goal for the Bulldogs (16-24-6).
Luke Gadzic scored the only goal for Texas (27-13-7) and Jack Campbell made 21 saves in the loss.
Pateryn's winning goal came at the end of a broken play, after Louis Leblanc's initial shot from the right deflected wide of Campbell. With Patrick Holland driving the net, Pateryn came to the left as the puck unexpectedly arrived in front of him and he easily slotted it in at 16:28 of the third.
Hamilton was tested late in the first, as Mike Blunden was whistled for tripping at 14:42 to send Texas to a two-man advantage for 42 seconds. But a flurry of saves by Mayer and a desperate effort to clear the zone by Alexander Avtsin saw the Bulldogs kill off the 5-on-3.
Lefebvre and his players agreed that the successful kill of the 5-on-3 was a pivotal moment for the Bulldogs.
"We came up huge, and sometimes, especially on a night like tonight when guys are out, you've got other guys filling in where they might not otherwise," said the coach. "They did a great job."
"Our penalty kill has been good all year," added Mayer. "We're confident in it and we know that we can get the job done."
Having not played for a week before getting the start on Saturday, Mayer showed rust early in the game, fumbling the first shot he faced, but kept the first period scoreless with 15 saves.
"It was a wobbly puck, and sometimes those are tough," said Mayer of his early test. "But I felt good right off the bat and I felt good this morning."
The Stars finally found a way past the goaltender with their 22nd shot of the night.
Taylor Vause's wrist shot through the high slot was saved by Mayer, but Gazdic pounced on the rebound and jammed it past the goaltender at 4:41 of the second.
Hamilton nearly had scored an equalizer four minutes later, when Kyle Hagel emerged from the penalty box to find himself on a breakaway, but fired a wrister harmlessly into the chest of Campbell.
It was a bizarre play that gifted the Bulldogs their first goal of the game at 14:32 of the second.
Campbell had gone to the bench for the extra attacker with a penalty upcoming to Hamilton, when Alex Chiasson stationed himself behind the Bulldogs' net and attempted a hard pass to the blue-line.
The puck missed both defenders and skipped down the ice and into the empty net, with Hamilton defender DeSantis credited as the last Bulldog to touch it.
"I've never seen anything like that before," said the defenceman of the fluke goal. "It was pretty lucky."
"Something like that is fortunate, but it happens against you too. So it's also nice when it goes your way."
Mayer made 29 saves before the Bulldogs entered the second intermission and proved invaluable early in the third.
A costly giveaway on an outlet pass from behind the net gave Texas two point-blank, uncontested shots at Hamilton's net, but Mayer kicked away both to preserve the tie.