Historic Night for Crane Gives Thunder 3-1 Victory Over Oilers
It was a great goaltending battle in Wichita on Friday night as Thunder netminder Mitch Gillam outdueled Tulsa Oilers goalie Evan Fitzpatrick in a 3-1 Wichita victory. While the goaltenders had a huge night, it was Chris Crane who was story, delivering the game winner on a historic goal, reaching the century mark for his ECHL career. He scored two goals overall. The win was the third in a row for the Thunder.
The Wichita Thunder would get on the board a little over three minutes into the contest, taking advantage of a power play opportunity. The Thunder were having problems getting their power play set up through for first minute but were able to finally gain control in the Tulsa end. Jack Combs took a pass in the high slot, firing a shot that hit off the crossbar, but it bounced right to Stefan Fournier, who batted it out of the air and in for his fourth goal of the year.
At the nine minute mark, the Oilers nearly tied the score. The puck was fed to Adam Pleskach down low. He went to the backhand looking to go over the shoulder of Mitch Gillam, but the Thunder goalie made a great save to knock it away.
A little over a minute later Evan Fitzpatrick came up big on back-to-back chances for Wichita. Billy Exell’s shot was knocked away by Fitzpatrick to the side where Peter Crinella corralled the rebound. He fired a shot looking to hit one in on the short side, but the Oilers goalie was able to slide over and block the shot away.
Coming out of the break, the Oilers put the pressure on and had several great chances early on. The biggest came at about 7:30 of the frame when Josh Wesley fired a shot on net that Gillam saved. The puck came to Dakota Joshua who put it right back on net, but Gillam was able to scramble to the left post to make the save. The puck was still loose in front of the Thunder net, but Chris Crane was able to knock it away.
At the 11 minute mark, a great pass up ice sent Brent Gates in on a breakaway. He tried to stuff the puck around Gillam’s leg and just inside the post, but the goaltender read it perfectly, following the puck all the way before knocking it aside with his pad.
The Tulsa Oilers dominated play and that would eventually result in a power play goal to tie the score. At 11:52, Riley Weselowski took a holding penalty. A minute later, the puck came back to Wesley at the point. He fired a shot that tipped off the stick of a Wichita defender and in past Gillam to tie the score at one. For Wesley it was his second goal of the year.
With 2:30 left in the second, Gillam made three incredible saves to defy the Oilers. Pleskach’s shot was saved, but the puck was loose in the crease. Mike McKee put it right back on net, but Gillam slid to get his body in front of the puck, knocking it down. Pleskach swatted at the puck looking to knock it in toward the far corner, but Gillam slid to the other side of the net, knocking it down and then sprawling onto his back to pull the puck underneath himself, denying Tulsa any chance to regain the rebound.
The Wichita Thunder were being badly outplayed through two, as Tulsa outshot them 25-13 through the first two periods. That continued in the third as the Oilers had five of the first shots, but it would be the Thunder who would retake the lead. Combs carried the puck into the Oilers end, moving down the boards. At the last second, he fired a perfect pass to the slot as Crane tipped it past Fitzpatrick for his eighth goal of the year. That was also the 100th goal of Crane’s ECHL career. Combs earned his second assist of the game on the play.
With seven minutes left in the game, Fournier was looking for his second goal of the game, when he entered the Tulsa end on a breakaway. His shot was saved but he was clearly interfered with, earning a penalty shot. Fournier took the opportunity, looking to sweep in front of the net, but Fitzpatrick followed the play perfectly to thwart the chance.
With 54 seconds left, the Thunder would add an insurance goal. With the Fitzpatrick on the bench for the extra attacker, Gillam made a save. The puck came right to Crane, who fired a shot from his own end into the empty net for his second goal of the game.
Mitch Gillam finished with 36 saves while Fitzpatrick saved 16. The Wichita penalty killing units killed off three of four opportunities for the Oilers.
The Wichita Thunder will take on the Tulsa Oilers again on Saturday. The game is set for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier