Crinella, Starrett Lead Thunder Over Pesky Rush, 5-3
With ECHL point leader Anthony Beauregard out with an injury, Beau Starrett and Peter Crinella found themselves moving up in the Wichita Thunder line configuration, and both delivered spectacular performances Friday night as the Thunder defeated the Rapid City Rush, 5-3. Crinella, moving to Starrett’s spot on the second line, was relentless early on in the contest, helping him record two points, while Starrett moved up to Beauregard’s position on the first line. That helped him deliver an assist and the game-winning goal.
This was a great back and forth affair through the first two periods, as each team countered the other. The Thunder jumped out to a 1-0 lead 4:26 into the contest. Spencer Dorowicz intercepted a clearing attempt inside the Rush zone. He moved down the slot before firing a pass across the crease to Brayden Watts, who buried the one-timer for his eighth goal of the season.
Wichita was controlling play through much of the first period, dominating the action as they produced several great scoring opportunities. However, Adam Carlson kept his team in the game, making 12 saves through the first frame.
That helped to give Rapid City the chance to counter the early goal, and that is what they did with a pair of tallies less than a minute apart. The first came at 18:12 when Cedric Montminy delivered his 15th goal of the year. Dorowicz was trying to move up along the boards out of the Thunder zone, but moved right into the teeth of the Rapid City press. Avery Peterson knocked the puck off of Dorowicz’s stick and right to Montminy, who carried the puck into the Thunder zone on a 3-on-1 break. He fired a wrist shot just above the right face-off circle that beat Evan Buirenhuis to the blocker side to tie the score at one.
Just 48 seconds later the Rush took the lead. With Rapid City on the power-play, Hunter Garlent passed the puck to Peterson just below the right face-off circle. He fired a shot that beat Buitenhuis to give Rapid City a 2-1 lead.
It looked like the Rush would head to the first intermission with the lead, but a beautiful set up by Matteo Gennaro with 15 seconds left in the period help to tie the score. Crinella had the puck along the boards behind the Rapid City net, moving it to Gennaro in the corner. Cam Clarke had an opening heading toward the Rush goal and moved in. Gennaro made a perfect feed across the slot to Clarke who redirected the puck in for his third goal of the season.
Wichita retook the lead 6:23 in the second. Ryan White battled for the puck along the boards inside the Rapid City zone, passing it to Crinella who was just inside the face-off circle. He made a nice one-touch pass to Gennaro who was standing alone in front of the net. The Wichita forward beat David Tendeck with a shot to the far post for his 24th goal of the year, putting the Thunder on top, 3-2.
As they had earlier in the contest, the Rush responded, as Garlent tied the score with his 20th goal of the season a little more than two minutes after the Gennaro tally. Brandon Magee gained control of the puck behind the Thunder net, passing it in front to Garlent, who was moving down the slot. He blasted the one-timer by Buitenhuis to tie the score at three.
The teams had traded goals through the first 36 minutes of the contest, but Starrett gave Wichita the lead for good just after the 16-minute mark. With Wichita on the power-play, Clarke pinched in from the blueline, stealing the puck along the half boards before passing it to Stefan Fournier near the Rush net. He quickly moved the puck across the slot to Starrett, who beat Tendeck to give Wichita a 4-3 lead.
Rapid City had two great chances to tie the score early in the third period, but Buitenhuis made a couple of spectacular pad saves to keep his team on top by a goal. The first came at 2:38 when a great feed came to Peter Quennville just inside the left face-off circle. He blasted a one-timer that looked like it was going to go just inside the post, but Buitenhuis flashed out his right pad to make a great save, denying a befuddled Quennville.
Moments later, Montminy had a chance at a one-timer just inside the left face-off circle but, once again, Buitenhuis was able to quickly move over, getting his leg pad out to block the attempt.
With a little under two minutes left in the contest, the Rush pulled Tendeck looking for the equalizer, but Jay Dickman would clear the puck just inside his own blueline, finding the back of the empty net for his 18th goal of the season. It was the third straight game where Dickman scored an empty net goal.
Buitenhuis stopped 37 of 40 shots to help the thunder to their fourth straight victory. Gennaro, Clarke, and Starrett each had a goal and an assist for the Thunder. Crinella added two assists. Rapid City got a goal and an assist from both Garlent and Peterson.
The victory moved the Thunder to 38-16-8 on the season, a .677 winning percentage. That moved them 18 percentage points ahead of Fort Wayne for the top spot in the Western Conference. More importantly, it moved Wichita just one point away from clinching a playoff spot.
The Thunder will be looking to clinch that spot on Saturday evening when they take on the Rush again. A victory by Wichita would secure their playoff spot and eliminate Rapid City. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier