Leonard Late Goal Keeps Oilers Playoff Hopes Alive
With less than a handful of games left for the Tulsa Oilers and the team still battling to try to earn that final playoff spot in the West Division, Curtis Leonard came up with a huge goal, scoring with seven seconds left in the contest to help Tulsa defeat the Wichita Thunder, 4-3. Tulsa had pulled their goaltender trying to get the win and came away with it, moving them six points behind the Utah Grizzlies for fourth place in the division.
This contest look like it was going to be a Thunder blowout, as Wichita scored two goals in the first eight minutes. The first came at 4:15 when Bobby McMann moved below the left face-off circle toward the goal line, then fired a shot from a very bad angle that looked like Roman Durny saved, but the puck somehow crept between his body and the short side post giving McMann his sixth goal of the year.
A little less than two minutes later Jay Dickman extended the Wichita lead to two. A terrible turnover along the end line inside the Tulsa zone but the puck right on Dickman’s stick. He moved across the crease, getting Drury down before firing a wrist shot into the top corner for his 19th tally of the year.
The Thunder were rolling, but the Oilers began to turn the tide and control play. They had been outshot 7-4 in the first period, but completely dominated the second, outshooting Wichita 18-7, and that enabled them to tie the score.
Tulsa pulled within one at the 8:22 mark of the second frame when Garret Cockerill scored on the power-play. Garrett Cecere had the puck at the blueline, passing it to Cockerill who was teed up just above the left face-off circle. He blasted a shot that looked like it deflected off a Wichita defenseman past Evan Weninger for his seventh goal of the year.
The Oilers continued to pressure Wichita, and were able to tie the score with one second left in the period. Adam Pleskach entered the Wichita zone was seconds left in the period, battled through a hip check along the boards before moving in toward the net. Realizing time was running out, he simply fired a shot that took a bad deflection off a stick and in to tie the score at two.
Coming out of the second intermission, the Oilers continued to dominate play, outshooting the Thunder 20-10 in the third period. It looked like they would take the lead at the 6:30 mark, but an unbelievable set of saves by Weninger kept the score tied. Matt Lane fired the initial shot, that the Wichita netminder knocked down, but it was loose right in front of him. Pleskach had two attempts to put the puck back in, but each time Weninger denied him. The second rebound came out to Charlie Sampair, who fired a shot toward the top corner, but Weninger was somehow able to get his glove up and knock the puck down. It was a truly remarkable set of saves.
With 6:46 left in the contest, Tulsa netted their third unanswered goal. Cockerill had the puck at the point and made a beautiful pass to Conlan Keenan at the back door, who simply redirected the puck past Weninger for his sixth goal of the year.
The Thunder looked like they were going to drop this contest, but Cam Clarke tied the score with 1:54 left in the contest. Gordie Green had the puck inside the Oilers end and initially moved in on Durny, but decided to curl back, passing the puck to Alex Peters who had just entered in the zone. He blasted a shot that Durny saved, but the rebound came to the opposite side to Clarke, who knocked it in for his fourth goal of the season.
Needing a victory, the Oilers pulled Durny looking to retake the lead and that paid off. With the face-off inside the Wichita zone, Sampair won the draw back to Cockerill, who made a great feed across the slot to the right face-off circle where Leonard blasted a one-timer by Weninger to give Tulsa a 4-3 lead. That would be the final.
Cockerill had a great game for Tulsa, scoring a goal and adding two assists. Lane had two assists for the Oilers while Durny made 21 saves.
Weninger stopped 38 of 42 shots for Wichita. Green had a pair of assists for the Thunder.
These two teams had for Wichita to battle again on Saturday. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier