Buitenhuis Performs Admirably, Thunder Rally Falls Short, 6-4
The Wichita Thunder fell behind 5-1 on Friday before rallying to pull within a goal. However, an empty net tally with less than a minute left helped secure the victory for the Kansas City Mavericks, 6-4. That dropped Wichita out of the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference by one percentage point.
Wichita found themselves in an unenviable situation when star goaltender Evan Weninger appeared to have injured his knee during warm-ups. With no backup available, the team activated Evan Buitenhuis, who had been acquired earlier in the week, but had just arrived earlier in the day, but had not even been able to practice with the team.
The Thunder gave their goaltender an early lead when Garrett Schmitz scored 3:48 into the first. With a power-play expiring, Peter Crinella came out of the corner, passing the puck in front to Jay Dickman. Dickman fired a shot on net that Mavericks goaltender Matt Ginn saved, but the rebound came to Schmitz who knocked it in for his third goal of the year. The tally snapped a string of 137 minutes since Ginn had last given up a goal to Wichita.
Kansas City responded a little less than two minutes later. With the puck inside the Mavericks end, the Wichita defender tried to keep the puck inside the Kansas City zone, but was unable to do so. That allowed Darik Angeli to get past the Thunder defender, quickly moving through the neutral zone and into the Wichita end on a breakaway. Buitenhuis made a fine save on the backhand attempt, but no one cleared out Nick Pastujov following the play. He knocked in the rebound for his third goal of the season to tie the score at one.
Just 61 seconds later, the Mavericks took the lead. Rob Bordson had the puck along the boards in the Wichita zone. He passed it to Brody Reid who was moving down the slot. Reid fired a shot that the Wichita netminder saved, but no one cleared out Zach Osburn, whose second rebound attempt got past Buitenhuis for his sixth goal of the year.
The Thunder were trailing 2-1 after one period, but looked to try to build some momentum starting the second. They were controlling the action, but it would be the Mavericks who would extend their lead to four with three goals in the span of about six minutes.
The first came at 3:41. Jared VanWormer fired a shot from the point that Buitenhuis saved, but Boston Leier cruised in front of the net, knocking in the rebound to make it a 3-1 game.
About five minutes later, Kansas City nearly extended their lead to three, but Buitenhuis made an outstanding recovery to keep this a two-goal game. Tommy Muck fired a shot that Buitenhuis saved, but the puck trickled through his pads and was headed across the goal line. The Wichita goaltender quickly recovered, reaching back just before the puck crossed the goal line to pull it in to deny the goal.
However, seconds later Kansas City would extend their lead to three when Pastujov scored his second goal of the game. Adam Brady fired a shot from just inside the left face-off circle that Buitenhuis saved, but the rebound feathered toward the opposite side of the net. Pastujov made a great play, diving for the loose puck to backhanded in just inside the post.
Right at the 10-minute mark, the Mavericks scored their fifth straight goal. Lane Scheidl gain control in the neutral zone and burst into the Wichita end. He fired a shot that Buitenhuis saved, but VanWormer had crept behind the Wichita defender, standing alone in front of the net where he knocked in the rebound for his ninth goal of the year.
This looked like it was going to be a blowout, but Dickman got the team back in the contest with his 12th goal of the season with 2:10 left in the period. With the face-off inside the Mavericks zone, Anthony Beauregard won the draw back to Dickman, who fired a laser wrist shot over the shoulder of Ginn.
The Thunder made this a two-goal game just before the six-minute mark of the third. Austin McIlmurray passed the puck toward the net to Beau Starrett who directed it on Ginn, but the Mavericks goaltender made the save. However, Starrett stuck with the play, knocking his own rebound in for his seventh goal of the season.
With four minutes left in the game, McIlmurray pulled Wichita within one. Crinella had the puck in the corner in the Mavericks end. McIlmurray had just come off the bench during a line change, entering the Mavericks zone. Crinella dished the puck back to the Thunder forward in the high slot who blasted a one-timer by Ginn to make this a one goal game.
With about two minutes left in the contest, Wichita pulled Buitenhuis looking for the equalizer. However, it would be the Mavericks it would extend their lead as Scheidl added an empty net goal to give Kansas City a 6-4 victory.
Dickman and McIlmurray each had a goal and an assist for the Thunder. Crinella had two assists. Buitenhuis stopped 37 shots in his debut with the team. He stopped all 13 shots he faced in the third period.
Pastujov scored two goals for the Mavericks. VanWormer and Scheidl each had a goal and two assists for Kansas City. Ginn saved 37 of 41 shots.
These clubs move up the highway for Saturday night’s contest. The opening face-off is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier