HAMILTON, Ont. -- After two periods on Wednesday, the Hamilton Bulldogs looked set to coast to victory with a comfortable 4-0 lead.
But when their cushion disappeared in the third, the Bulldogs turned to goaltender Robert Mayer and a desperate defensive effort to salvage a win.
Mayer made 42 saves as the Bulldogs held off the Abbotsford Heat 5-3 in American Hockey League play.
"It was a game where we wanted to come out strong," said Hamilton forward Joey Tenute. "We knew that we had been slow to start at home in our last few games here, and we talked all week about having a good start.
"Tonight, we had that, and then we seemed to fall asleep a little bit at times in the second and third."
Tenute had two goals, while Michael Bournival, Frederic St. Denis and Greg Pateryn also scored for Hamilton (26-32-6).
Max Reinhart, Roman Horak and Ben Street had goals for Abbotsford (30-29-9), and Barry Brust stopped 10-of-12 shots in relief of starter Danny Taylor.
A strong power play carried momentum into even-strength play as Bournival opened the scoring for the Bulldogs at 10:41 of the first. The centre collected the puck from defenceman Nathan Beaulieu and circled into the high slot before firing a wristshot that deflected off the far post and past Taylor.
With their first goal behind them, the Bulldogs wasted no time in finding another.
They doubled their advantage at 13:17 of the first when Philippe Lefebvre's point shot hit a Heat player in front of the net and spilled to St. Denis on the left wing. The defender routinely slotted the puck past Taylor, who had yet to spot it through a screen.
Alex Belzile attributed Hamilton's success in the opening period to its simplistic and efficient approach on offence.
"We were opportunistic and we had the little details down," said Belzile. "We took shots and didn't do anything complicated, and it worked.
"I hope that we'll do the same thing in the future."
Brady Vail -- Montreal's fourth-round selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (94th overall) -- registered an assist on the play for his first professional point.
Tenute capped the Bulldogs' impressive first period with the team's third goal at 18:39. He corralled a cross-ice pass from Belzile and carried the puck over the left circle, releasing a heavy wrist shot that eluded Taylor's blocking glove and deflected in off the crossbar.
Taylor was replaced by Brust after allowing three goals on only 10 shots in the first.
Pateryn extended the Bulldogs' lead to four with a power-play goal at 6:14 in the second. Hamilton cycled the puck effectively with the man advantage, and after Patrick Holland threaded a cross-ice pass to him on the left point Pateryn took a well-placed slapshot that beat Brust on the short side.
Despite being badly outplayed through the first two periods, the Heat entered the third in much better form.
Abbotsford scored twice in quick succession to bring the result into doubt, as Horak followed Reinhart's goal at 1:56 with one of his own four minutes later.
Ben Walter's weak shot among a crowd was stopped by Mayer, but the rebound fell to Horak and he fired it in to cut Hamilton's lead to 4-2 at 6:01 of the third.
With his team looking sluggish and its lead quickly evaporating, the Bulldogs' head coach Sylvain Lefebvre called a timeout that seemed to awaken his players.
The Bulldogs explained that Lefebvre stressed defensive responsibility as he looked to rally his team.
"He told us to keep things simple just like we did when we started the game," said Belzile. "We don't need highlight-reel goals to make it 5-2. That's not the way to play.
"We had to be defensively strong and win those 50-50 battles, and pay attention to those little details."
Hamilton responded to the break with its fifth goal of the game, as Tenute scored his second at 8:36. Holland carried the puck down the left wing and cut to the net, forcing a save from Brust before the rebound spilled to Tenute, who shot the puck in from close range.
Tenute credited the swing in momentum to a change of pace.
"We had the lead and we knew that we are all capable players out there," said the Bulldog forward. "We're all responsible. We just had to have some confidence and slow the game down.
"We had to play at our pace and dictate play."
Abbotsford cut its deficit to two goals yet again when Street scored at 15:13, but would get no closer.