Crinella Completes Thunder Comeback, 5-4
Hockey is a unique sport in that is not divided into quarters or halves, but is a game of three periods, making it the only major sport to be divided in this way. That unique division was on display in more ways than one on Friday evening, as the Wichita Thunder defeated the Utah Grizzlies, 5-4. Wichita jumped out to a 3-0 lead before Utah responded with four unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead. However, the Thunder responded with two third-period goals to earn the 5-4 victory. Petr Crinella scored the game-winner.
Wichita jumped out to a 1-0 lead 5:31 into the opening period. Dean Stewart fired a shot from the right face-off circle that Utah goaltender Kevin Carr saved, but the rebound deflected to the opposite side where Stefan Fournier corralled it and made a nice backhand shot that found the upper corner of the net for his 16th goal of the season.
Wichita netminder Evan Buitenhuis helped preserve that lead through the first frame, twice stopping breakaway opportunities for Utah. The first came with 4:02 left in the first period, when a great outlet pass sent Matthew Boucher in all alone. He faked to his left, trying to draw Buitenhuis to the right side of the crease, then went to his backhand, looking to tuck the puck into the opposite corner, but the Thunder goaltender quickly slid over, making the pad save.
With 1:43 left, a bad turnover in the neutral zone sent Hayden Hodgson in on a breakaway. He fired a wrist shot looking for the upper corner, but Buitenhuis was able to knock it down.
Utah had outshot Wichita in the first period, 13-12, but the second was a wild affair, with the Grizzlies outshooting the Thunder, 23-14. That led to six goals in the period. The first came 2:03 in the period, when Wichita extended their lead to two. Matteo Gennaro fired a shot that deflected up into the air. Carr could not locate it and began to back up into his crease, but the puck deflected off his back, falling into the goal to give Gennaro his 14th tally of the year.
A little less than five minutes later the Thunder were back on the board. Ryan White fired a shot from just inside the left face-off circle that deflected to the opposite side where Jacob Graves picked it up. He battled through a pair of Utah defenders, looking to try to get a shot on net. Eventually, he was able to get enough on a shot to beat Carr for his second goal of the season.
Wichita looked like they were in complete control of this contest, but a power-play goal by the Grizzlies at 10:43 quickly changed the momentum of this game. Ryan Lowney gained control of the puck behind his own net and fired a perfect outlet pass to A.J. White who was just outside the Thunder blueline. That sent White in on a breakaway. As he approached the net, he fired a wrist shot between the pads of Buitenhuis for his seventh goal of the season.
Almost exactly 4 minutes later the deficit was cut in half. A shot by Boucher was knocked down in front and was left loose inside the crease. Matt Hoover was able to gain control of the puck, firing a nice backhand shot that found its way just inside the right post for his ninth goal of the year.
With a little less than three minutes left in the period, Utah tied the score. Trey Bradley gained control of the puck behind the Wichita net, passing it out in front to Pat Cannone, who fired a one-timer by Buitenhuis.
The Grizzlies were dominating play, and would take the lead with 1:26 left in the period. Hodgson carried the puck into the Thunder zone on a 2-on-1 break. He attempted to pass the puck across the slot to Boucher, but Sean Allen was able to lay out and deflected the pass attempt. However, the deflection headed right toward Buitenhuis where Boucher was able to push the puck enough through the legs of the Thunder goaltender for his 17th goal of the season.
This game looked like it was going to get out of hand, especially after Utah earned a power-play opportunity early in the third period. However, a shorthanded tally by Spencer Dorowicz turned the tide of this game once again. It was a great individual effort by Dorowicz, who stole the puck just outside his own blueline, then outraced two Grizzlies defenders. He entered the Utah zone on a personal breakaway looking to slide a backhander between the legs of Carr. The Utah netminder got a piece of the puck, but as he was falling backwards the puck continued to slide, going underneath him and just across the goal line to tie the game at four.
That set up the game-winner for Wichita. At the 5:15 mark, Garrett Schmitz carried the puck into the Utah zone on a 2-on-1 break. He was looking to slide the puck across the slot, but made a very smart move, deciding to stop and back himself toward the sideboards. That allowed Crinella to start moving across the slot. Schmitz made a perfect pass to the Wichita forward, who fired a wrist shot past the blocker of Carr for his ninth goal of the season.
From there, Buitenhuis made the lead stand, making seven saves in the final period. The Wichita goaltender finished with 39 saves, moving his record to 5-1-0 since joining the Thunder. Stewart had two assists for the Thunder and Gennaro had a goal and an assist.
Utah was led in scoring by Boucher who had a goal and two assists. White added a goal and an assist and Hodgson had two assists.
These two teams will take to the ice once again on Saturday evening. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier