Thunder Comeback Falls Short; Mountain Division Race Tightens
The Wichita Thunder finally returned home after eight straight games on the road, and were looking to take advantage of a crowd of over 13,000 on hand, but three unanswered goals staked the Tulsa Oilers to the early lead, and they would thwart a feverish comeback, downing the Thunder 3-2. Jake Hildebrand was stellar in net for Tulsa, stopping 24 shots, and Kyle Rhodes had a goal and an assist for the victorious Oilers.
The Tulsa Oilers would silence the crowd a little less than four minutes into the contest. A bad giveaway in the neutral zone gave the puck to Kyle Rhodes. He carried the puck into the Thunder end, down the right hand side boards, firing a wrist shot that beat Nick Riopel over the glove hand for his first goal of the season.
Tulsa was dominating action, outshooting Wichita 10-5 through the first period. The early goal really seemed to take the wind out of the Thunder sails, as they were sluggish through the first.
The Oilers would extend their lead to two at 11:21 of the second. Tulsa was getting great pressure that would eventually result in a goal. Rhodes shot was saved by Riopel, with the rebound going to the opposite side where Evan Richardson gained control along the boards. He fired a brilliant pass to Roman Ammirato, who tipped the puck in for his second goal of the year.
About four minutes later, the Tulsa Oilers would be back on the board. Alexander Ranger passed the puck out in front of the net, where Joey Sides redirected it out of midair and past Riopel for his 12th goal of the year.
The Oilers were absolutely dominating this contest, outshooting the Thunder 25-15 through the first two frames, but Wichita came out of the second break with a greater sense of urgency. This led to great scoring chances for both teams.
That extra step finally paid off when the Thunder scored at 9:09. Chad Butcher passed the puck to Ralph Cuddemi who was cruising down the slot. Cuddemi gained control of the puck on his stick briefly before firing a wrist shot in for his team leading 30th goal of the year.
A little over five minutes later, this became a one goal game. Travis Brown fired from the blueline. Travis Ewanyk had parked himself in front of the net and was able to redirect the puck through the legs of Hildebrand for his 13th of the year.
The Thunder would pull their netminder with two minutes left in the contest, but could not get a single shot on net. That helped Tulsa seal the 3-2 victory.
The Oilers victory helped to create log jam for the final two playoff positions in the Mountain Division. The Allen Americans fell to Colorado in overtime, giving them a point. That moved Allen into a tie with the Thunder, with each team at 74 points. The victory allowed Tulsa to move one point behind both Allen and Wichita.
The Wichita Thunder travel to Tulsa to take on the Oilers tomorrow night. Allen will host Colorado.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier