Wichita Thunder Down Rapid City Rush in OT
With the season winding down, the Wichita Thunder find themselves in must win games virtually every night, and when they play teams above them in the standings those games are even more critical to win. Wednesday night the Thunder were in one of those games, and came away dramatic with a 3-2 win over the Rapid City Rush. It was an incredible comeback for Wichita who was trailing 2-0 with less than seven minutes left in the game before scoring three unanswered goals to take the victory.
Rapid City got on the board quickly with two opening period goals. The Rush were on the power-play when Riley Weselowski fired a shot from the blue line that Dylan Clarke tipped in for the 1-0 lead. The goal was Clarke’s 15th of the season. Thirteen minutes later, the Rush were on the power-play again. This time Cody Ferriero beat Wichita Thunder goalie Tim Boron with the wrist shot from the left face-off circle that increased the lead to 2-0. It was Ferriero’s 17th goal of the year.
The first period was a wide open affair as Rapid City outshot Wichita 15-10. The second was a completely different game. The Thunder managed just six shots it the second period, while the Rush had half as many. Wichita did generate a few scoring chances, but Rapid City goalie John Griggs was up to the task each time, keeping his shutout intact through two periods.
The third period was completely dominated by the Thunder. It was clear the team knew they needed this game, and they were going on an all-out offensive to get it. Wichita had five shots on net in the first seven minutes of the period, but Griggs held strong. The Rush started to turn the tide about eight minutes in when they managed to keep the puck in the Thunder end and got a couple of quick shots off that Boron made nice saves on to keep his team just two goals down.
At 11:22 of the third, Kevin Harvey took a quick shot that Boron made a great save on. That seemed to bring the team to life, and back the other way Wichita went. A little over a minute later Mike Wilson made a brilliant move to maintain control of the puck, and then fed a perfect pass to RG Flath, who was parked right in front of the net. Flath redirected the puck in the goal in one movement, scoring his 1oth goal of the season, cutting the deficit in half.
Griggs continued to hold strong and the Rush were fighting to maintain their lead. With nearly two minutes left in the game, Boron was pulled for the extra attacker, and the Thunder maintained control in the offensive end looking for the equalizer. The puck movement was extraordinary, and Griggs eventually made a nice save, holding on to draw a face-off. The Thunder won the face-off and quickly the puck found its way onto Danick Gauthier’s stick, who fired a shot from the left corner that found its way into the net to tie the score.
The momentum had shifted quickly, and when Kevin Harvey took a boarding penalty with 37 seconds left in the game, it looked like this was going to be the Thunder’s night for sure. It didn’t take them long to make that a reality. Flath found himself on the doorstep less than 30 seconds into overtime, shooting a rebound shot right back at Griggs. The Rapid City goalie made a great play to keep the game tied, deflecting the puck along the wall. Ian Lowe made a nice play to keep the puck in the offensive end, then fed it Gauthier. He made a beautiful one-timer that found the back of the net, sending his team to victory. It was an incredible comeback win.
Boron finished with 18 saves on 20 shots, winning his 20th game of the season. Gauthier, who was named the game’s top star, finished with two goals (22, 23), and Flath had a goal and an assist.
The Wichita Thunder travel to Brampton to take on the Beast (18-33-2-0) Friday night. Wichita (26-21-2-5) is tied with the Rapid City Rush for fourth in the Central Division and are one point out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
By Robert Pannier