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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thunder will try to press advantage on the road

By Jeffrey Lutz
The Wichita Eagle

The Thunder’s goal wasn’t to embarrass Texas, just to beat the Brahmas in the best-of-7 CHL Berry Conference Finals.

But by pulling off the first, Wichita went a long way toward accomplishing the second, gaining a significant psychological edge with an 8-1 win Sunday in Game 2 that included multiple Thunder postseason records.

Game 3 is Wednesday night in Texas, where the Thunder will look to apply their mental advantage. Wichita can finish off the series on the road, with Game 4 scheduled for Friday.

"It’s a great feeling," Wichita forward Aaron Davis said. "It’s going to be tough to go down there to their building and win two. We’re going to take one at a time, and it’s good to get these two off our back."

Alex Bourret scored a shorthanded goal to open the Thunder’s seven-goal second period on Sunday — it was Wichita’s fifth such score of the postseason, matching a team record and putting the Thunder within striking distance of the league record of eight set by Oklahoma City in 1999.

The seven goals in a period is a league record, and it helped Wichita defenseman Jarred Mohr establish a plus-six rating for the game, tying the CHL mark.

Sunday’s performance is unlikely to be duplicated unless Texas is deflated and defeated by the humiliating Game 2 loss. The Thunder isn’t counting on that, and will keep its guard up while playing in conditions that are more in the Brahamas’ favor.

"It’s never over," Thunder forward Thomas Beauregard said. "Yeah, we’re up 2-0, but they’re at home now. It’s a smaller ice down there. They collapse everything and it’s hard playing there so we have to be ready. We’re up 2-0 but we have to forget about (Sunday’s game) and just focus on the third one."

The Brahmas’ rink in the Fort Worth suburb of North Richland Hills is called "the shoebox" because of its smaller dimensions. The surface serves as an equalizer, giving the athletic, physical Thunder less room to operate and keeping breakaways to a minimum.

The NYTEX Center holds around 3,000, giving fans an active voice in rallying the Brahmas and getting under the skin of opponents.

"It’s playoffs and it’s a marathon," Beauregard said. "We just have to play the same way we’ve been playing all series long. We have to keep hitting them and playing hard and we’ll see what happens."

The Thunder’s shorthanded goals are part of a larger picture that has Wichita often succeeding when at a disadvantage. The Thunder has fallen behind in all seven postseason games but have rallied to win six.

Wichita has survived early deficits, playing minus a man and often failing on the power play, where it has converted 1 of 22 chances.

Yet another opportunity has opened for the Thunder to finish a postseason series quickly — it won its first-round set over Rio Grande Valley in five games and can do something similar to reach the CHL finals. The five days off between series has helped Wichita outscore Texas 11-2 in the first two games.

"It’s a big confidence-booster for everybody," forward Matt Robinson said. "Everybody had a great game (Sunday). With their building, it’s smaller building, and they get good fans in there who are pretty good at heckling. We just need to play simple and cycle it in, and that’s been making us successful in using our speed."

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