HAMILTON, Ont. -- The St. John's IceCaps weathered a wild first period with the help of goaltender Jussi Olkinuora, before finding offensive inroads in the second.
Olkinuora made 16 saves in the first period, and 30 overall, for his first professional shutout, as the IceCaps defeated Hamilton Bulldogs 3-0 Saturday in American Hockey League action.
The goaltender deflected attention from his own accomplishment, and instead complimented his teammates on their recent form.
"It feels good," said Olkinuora of his shutout. "But more importantly, it feels good to win again. It's a lot of fun.
"The guys have found a way to play effectively and be tough to play. We've been making smart decisions with the puck, and it's fun to play behind these guys."
Kael Mouillerat, Carl Klingberg and Eric O'Dell scored for the IceCaps (15-10-3).
Dustin Tokarski stopped 36 shots for the Bulldogs (12-12-3) .
The Bulldogs got the better of an entertaining first period in which both teams enjoyed quality scoring chances.
A giveaway at the defensive blue line by Hamilton winger Nick Tarnasky gave Jerome Samson room to operate along the right wing. The St. John's forward moved in to the hashmarks and released a rising wrist shot that beat Tokarski but rang off his near post.
Just over ten minutes into the first period, another Tarnasky giveaway sent the IceCaps into the Bulldogs zone on a 2-on-1 break, but Tokarski was alert in sliding to his left and snaring the one-time shot with his glove.
Tarnasky found himself in the spotlight once again with 4:17 to play in the first period, when he enjoyed Hamilton's best opportunity to score the game's first goal. A cross-ice pass found him posted just outside Olkinuora's crease at the right post, but Tarnasky couldn't corral the puck, and the goaltender recovered and sprawled to deny the chance.
Olkinuora enjoyed the heavy workload in the opening period, and argued that it helped him to find his rhythm on Saturday.
"You could say that it gets you into the game," he said. "Every game is different, but I do enjoy games where you can get into the action pretty early and often. Obviously, I don't tell the guys that."
The IceCaps enjoyed a lengthy two-man advantage early in the second period, as Maxime Macenauer was whistled for slashing at 2:43 and Mike Blunden followed with a delay of game infraction 22 seconds later.
Tokarski was sharp in denying St. John's on multiple occasions, as Hamilton held the visitors off the scoreboard over the course of the 5-on-3.
There was little for the goaltender to do, however, when the IceCaps opened the scoring at 7:48 of the second period.
Samson's initial slap shot was kicked aside by Tokarski, but fell to Mouillerat in the low slot, and he circled the fallen goaltender and slid a shot inside the near post as Tokarski dove unsuccessfully to meet it.
The IceCaps made it 2-0 at 14:35 of the second, when Carl Klingberg converted his second breakaway opportunity of the game. Latching onto a loose puck in the neutral zone, the St. John's forward shifted from his backhand to his forehand side and slid the puck past Tokarski.
Hamilton coach Sylvain Lefebvre bemoaned his team's inability to gain momentum in the second period, even after successfully killing the two-man advantage.
"We played well in the first, but in the second, penalties killed us," he said. "Usually when you kill a 5-on-3, you have good chances to win the game. We just couldn't get the momentum, and when you take too many penalties, it taxes some of the players and others sit on the bench and wait."
St. John's struck early in the third period to extend its lead to 3-0 and put the game out of reach.
The initial point shot by Brenden Kichton was saved by Tokarski, but the rebound bounced to O'Dell, who easily slotted the puck into the open net at 3:54.
Olkinuora made an exceptional save to preserve his shutout bid with 3:21 to play, picking Martin St. Pierre's close-range wrist shot out of the air with his glove.
The goaltender pointed to improved breakouts and decision-making as the factors that improved his team's play in the final two periods.
"I think our guys made an adjustment and a push," said Olkinuora. "We had over 20 shots in the second period and it's all because we found a way to go out of our zone cleaner, and we made smarter decisions."