Watts Nets Two in Thunder Victory
WICHITA, KS – Brayden Watts scored goals in each of the first two periods as the Wichita Thunder jumped out to a four-goal lead before defeating the Rapid City Rush on Wednesday, 6-3. Wichita broke open a one goal game with three goals in the second. Michal Stinil continues his red-hot stretch, adding a goal and two assists and Evan Buitenhuis stopped 44 shots, including 19 in the third period. The victory was the third in the last four games for the Thunder.
Watts gave Wichita the lead 14:33 into the contest. With Wichita on the power-play, Timur Ibragimov passed the puck to Watts at the right face-off circle, who buried a one by Rush netminder Daniil Chechelev. It was the 13th goal of the year for Watts.
Rapid City tied the score 45 seconds later. Lucas Feuk passed the puck in front of the net to Alex Aleardi, who gained control of the puck before lifting a wrist shot by Buitenhuis for his eighth goal of the year.
The Thunder responded quickly, scoring 15 seconds later to retake the lead for good. Mark Liwiski slung the puck across the blueline to Zach Hoffman fired a shot that Dominic Dockery redirected past Chechelev for his second goal of the year.
Wichita held that one goal advantage heading into the first intermission despite being outshot by Rapid City, 13-10. In the second, the Rush outshot Wichita 13-10 once again, but it would be the Thunder who would come away with three goals in the frame.
The first of those came at 5:43 when Peter Bates scored his fourth goal of the year. Bates made a great play to steal the puck at the blueline, then moved in on Chechelev on a breakaway. As he approached the Rush netminder, he made a move to his left before coming back to his right and shooting the puck past the blocker of Chechelev to make it 3-1.
Almost exactly 5 minutes later, Watson netted his second power-play goal of the night. It was almost identical to his first goal as Stinil passed the puck to Watts just above the right face-off circle, who buried a one over the shoulder of Chechelev to give the Thunder a three-goal advantage.
At 16:13, Stinil netted his 11th goal of the year to make it 5-1. Jay Dickman gained control the puck near the bench, then passed it to Stinil just before he entered the Rapid City zone. That gave Wichita a 2-on-1 break, but Stinil opted to keep the puck, lifting a wrist shot by Chechelev to send the Thunder to the second intermission up by four.
The Rush were down, but scored two goals in the span of 15 seconds in the third to cut their deficit to two. The first came at 12:28 when Brett Gravelle scored his fourth goal of the year. Logan Nelson passed the puck to Gravelle who took a shot that found the inside of the left post to cut the deficit to three.
At 12:43, Nelson netted his eighth goal of the year, stealing the puck at the left post, then tucking in in to make this a two-goal Wichita advantage.
Suddenly, the Thunder were back on their heels as Rapid City outshot the Thunder 21-6 in the final period. However, with 59 seconds left in the game, Cole McDonald netted an empty net tally to restore the three-goal advantage.
Buitenhuis stopped 44 of the 47 shots in the win. McDonald and Dockery each had a goal and an assist for the Thunder. Nelson had a goal and an assist and Feuk had two assists for the Rush.
With three points on the night, Stinil now has recorded at least one point in 14 of his last 17 games. He has 19 points in his last 12 contests, including scoring multiple points in seven of his last nine games.
These two teams will be back at it on Thursday night. The Wichita Thunder (14-9-2) are now four points ahead of the Rapid City Rush (13-13-0) in the Mountain Division standings. The puck drops at 7:05.
by Robert Pannier