HAMILTON, Ont. -- The Hamilton Bulldogs tinkered with their game after a tight opening period on Friday, and emerged from the intermission with a new offensive flair.
Hamilton scored three goals in the second period and Robert Mayer made 30 saves, as the Bulldogs defeated the St. John's IceCaps 4-1 in the American Hockey League.
Defenceman Nathan Beaulieu, in his first game since being re-assigned by the Montreal Canadiens, credited the Bulldogs' willingness to shoot as the reason for their success in the second.
"We were a bit timid, and trying to do a bit too much in the first," said Beaulieu. "We didn't have enough shots, that was a key.
"Once we started shooting the puck, (the IceCaps) backed off a lot more. We got a good five or six shots in the first three or four minutes, and that helps create opportunities down low."
Philippe Lefebvre had two goals for the Bulldogs (29-39-6), while Louis Leblanc and Greg Pateryn each scored.
Josh Lunden had the lone goal for the IceCaps (31-36-7).
Juho Olkinuora, making his first professional appearance after being signed on a tryout basis by the Winnipeg Jets on April 10, stopped 22 shots.
Mayer was put to the test in the early minutes of the first with the IceCaps enjoying an extended five-on-three power play.
He moved into the butterfly position to deny an initial shot that bounced to his left, and tracked the puck to turn aside another wrist shot from point-blank range.
Mayer had to be sharp once again, with 10 minutes to play in the opening period. A cross-ice pass found the IceCaps' Raymond Sawada unmarked in the low slot, and the winger forced an immediate save from Mayer before putting the rebound over the crossbar.
Instead, it was Hamilton that opened the scoring at 5:27 of the second, when the young Olkinuora bobbled a routine wrist shot.
He waved feebly at Lefebvre's initial effort, and after Michael Bournival and Beaulieu each swung at the resulting rebound, Lefebvre circled back to slot the puck in.
The Bulldogs quickly doubled their advantage, striking while shorthanded when a fortunate bounce put the puck on the stick of Leblanc at 7:43 of the second.
Beaulieu carried a counter-attack over the blue-line and fired a slap shot that took a radical deflection onto the stick of Leblanc, who scored easily into the open net with Olkinuora hopelessly out of position.
The Bulldog defenceman looked comfortable alongside long-time partner Pateryn, and indicated that the transition back to AHL hockey was a seamless one.
"The NHL is the best league in the world, so coming back down here it was important that I didn't try to do too much," said Beaulieu. "I've played well with (Pateryn) all year, and my offensive ability really took off when he came back into the lineup. He's a good guy to have, and we're on the same page, and that helps a lot."
Hamilton added a third goal before the period's end, striking just as a St. John's penalty expired.
Winger Charles Hudon received the puck below the goal-line and walked to the hash marks before dishing to Pateryn, who released a quick slap shot that sailed cleanly through traffic and eluded Olkinuora at 16:07 of the second.
Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre indicated that a penalty-riddled first period had made offence difficult to construct, and that a calmer second allowed his team to settle in.
"I think that in the first period, with all of the penalties, it was tough to get going," said Lefebvre. "We did well on the penalty kill, and in the second we came out strong and had some scoring chances."
Mayer's shutout bid was denied at 7:24 of the third, when Lunden positioned himself at the edge of the crease and tipped in Zach Redmond's point shot.
But that was all the offence that St. John's could mount, as Hamilton controlled possession for much of the third period to see out the victory.
Lefebvre was satisfied with his team's defensive effort to put the game to rest in the final period.
"On their goal, we weren't in a very good position defensively," said the coach. "But when they tried to push back, we played hard."
Lefebvre sealed the result by adding a goal into the empty net at 17:34.