Coulter Keeps Rapid City Playoff Hopes Alive; Rush Win, 3-2
Tyler Coulter scored the game-winner with a little less than nine minutes left in Saturday evening’s contest to give the Rapid City Rush a 3-2 victory over the Wichita Thunder. The victory kept the slim playoff hopes of Rapid City alive, as all Wichita needed was one point to eliminate the Rush from the Western Conference playoff picture. Stefan Fournier had a goal and an assist for Wichita.
Evan Weninger made his first start for Wichita since suffering an injury back on March 26 and played well, but a couple of early defensive lapses helped Rapid City jump out to a 2-0 lead. Just before the two-minute mark of the contest, the Rush took the lead. Johnny Coughlin fired a shot that Weninger saved. The rebound went to the opposite side of the net where Cedric Montminy had slipped by two Thunder defensemen, knocking in the rebound for his 16th goal of the year.
At the 7:30, it looked like Wichita was going to tie the score, but Rush netminder David Tendeck made a series of spectacular saves to deny the Thunder. Cam Clarke got it started with a shot that the Rapid City goaltender saved, but Clarke did not give up on the play, following his own rebound and getting a point-blank shot that Tendeck saved and knocked behind the debt. That had the Rush netminder down and looking toward the end boards as Jay Dickman gained control of the puck, quickly dishing it out front to Beau Starrett. Tendeck looked like he was completely out of position, but was able to quickly turn around and get down to block a one-timer by Starrett.
That proved to be huge, as Rapid City extended their lead at 10:23 of the first. With Rapid City on the power-play, the Rush won the draw inside the Wichita end back to Peter Quenneville, who fed the puck across the blueline to brother David. David Quenneville then gave it back to his brother, who fired a shot that Weninger saved, but Avery Peterson knocked in the rebound for his 26th goal of the year.
The Thunder could not find the answer to Tendeck through the first half of this hockey game, but Fournier got the crowd back into the contest with his 21st goal of the season 10:13 into the second period. Alex Peters made a great play at the blueline, denying a clearing attempt by the Rush, then dumping the puck down along the boards to Starrett behind the net. Starrett waited for Fournier to cut in front of the Rapid City goal before making a beautiful backhand flip out to his linemate. Fournier fired a wrist shot that beat Tendeck to cut the Thunder deficit to one.
Four minutes later Hunter Garlent nearly reestablished the two-goal lead. Garlent swept across the crease, looking to tuck the puck just inside the right post, but somehow Weninger was able to get his pad out and block the attempt, keeping his team down by a goal.
That proved to be huge, as Starrett tied the score with a little over four minutes left in the period. Dickman carried the puck into the Rush zone, then made a drop pass back to Fournier who fired a shot that Tendeck saved. The rebound came right to Dickman, who made a one-touch pass across the crease to Starrett near the far post. The Thunder forward simply redirected the puck into the net for his 14th tally of the season and suddenly the game was tied at two.
It stayed that way through the first 11 minutes of the third period, but the second power-play goal of the night for Rapid City gave the Rush the lead for good. David Quenneville fired a shot from the point that Coulter redirected by Weninger for his 21st goal of the season.
Wichita pulled their goaltender with a little under two minutes left in the contest, and had several great scoring chances, but Tendeck denied each one. The Rapid City goaltender finished with 31 saves. David Quenneville had two assists and Coulter finished with a goal and assist for Rapid City.
Both Starrett and Fournier had a goal and an assist for the Thunder. The two point night by Fournier now gives him 109 total points in a Thunder uniform. That ist he most of any player since the team joined the ECHL. Weninger played well in his return, stopping 30 of 33 shots.
Rapid City will look to keep alive their slim playoff hopes when they take on the Thunder again on Sunday afternoon. The puck drops at 4:05.
By Robert Pannier