When the Thunder went to its dressing room after a disappointing first period on Saturday against Allen, Wichita talked about fixable problems.
The focus wasn’t on the intangibles, such as how the Thunder needed to find a more relaxed mindset after coming out with too much energy against its biggest rival. No, the team discussed strategic changes that it felt gave it the best chance for a comeback.
Wichita’s straightforward approach to rallying worked. After falling behind by two goals in the second period, the Thunder tied it with a pair of scores by Ian Lowe within 30 seconds. Then Wichita controlled the game from there, winning 5-3 at Intrust Bank Arena.
The win pulled Wichita to within a point of Allen for first place in the CHL. The Americans beat Wichita twice in Texas this season, but Wichita bested them in their first meeting at home. Allen visits Wichita twice more in the next nine days, including Tuesday’s makeup of a game postponed on Dec. 26.
Beating Allen cleared a mental hurdle for Wichita, but it didn’t come without adjustments of the more appreciable variety.
"We came in after the first period and started talking about how we had to force pucks (toward the net) more," said Wichita forward RG Flath, who provided the go-ahead goal in the third. "When you’re forcing their defenseman, they start coughing the puck up, and that’s what happened on our second goal."
Remembering the details of the Thunder’s second goal is no small feat since it occurred almost immediately after the first. Wichita got within one of Allen on a deflection score by Lowe on the power play, and the celebration for that goal essentially never ended.
Less than 30 seconds later, Lowe scored again as he worked a give-and-go with Neil Trimm and eluded Allen’s defense before some shifty moves to push the puck past Aaron Dell.
In a Friday loss to Tulsa, Wichita outshot the Oilers by 18 and played more physically and aggressively, but the loss essentially created a must-win game. The urgency was just as high when the Thunder tied it, and this time Wichita maintained its energy to follow through on it.
Flath broke the 2-2 tie in the third and Robinson gave Wichita a 4-2 cushion later in the period. Allen created a tense situation by scoring with just under seven minutes to play, but Wichita held off the Americans before Chad Painchaud’s empty-net goal cemented the result.
"They’re a different team when they go on the road and come on our building," Lowe said. "It’s good to beat those guys. It’s going to be in the back of their head that we play pretty tough at home, too."
A more aggressive approach wasn’t all Wichita adjusted to in the second. Goalie Kevin Regan, who hadn’t played since Jan. 18, was hit on a play near the goal and left the game late in the first. His status is uncertain going forward.
Torrie Jung, who endured a shootout loss Friday, allowed an early goal in the second. But his performance helped enable Wichita to take the lead in the second.
The Thunder improved its presence in the second period. In the first, Allen was more apt to enforce its will with hits along the boards, but that trend changed in the second. Allen was still physical, but it was mostly in response to the physicality of the Thunder, which dictated that aspect of the game.
"They came at us hard at the start of the game," Lowe said. "They like to use their sticks and get at us. After the first period, and even after the second, we came at them there pretty good. They made some errors after we started taking the body and getting in their face a little bit."
Scoring—1. Allen, Ludwig (Schaafsma, Maiani), 5:28. Penalties—Allen, Clarke (slashing), 4:33; Wichita, Madden (roughing), 4:33; Allen, Lukin (high sticking), 14:28; Wichita, Flath (cross checking), 19:14.
Scoring—2. Allen, Pineault (Lukin, Montgomery), 2:21; 3. Wichita, Lowe PP (Robinson, Mohr), 6:00; 4. Wichita, Lowe (Trimm), 6:29. Penalties—Allen, Daniels (cross checking), 5:48; Allen, Berube (roughing), 7:14; Wichita, Flath (boarding), 14:05; Allen, Ludwig (slashing), 16:57; Wichita, Painchaud (cross checking), 16:57; Allen, Matvichuk (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:57; Wichita, bench (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16;57; Allen, Penner (misconduct, 10 min.), 18:15; Wichita, Inman (misconduct, 10 min.), 18:15; Allen, Deitsch (high sticking), 18:46; Wichita, Flath (roughing), 18:46.
Scoring—5. Wichita, Flath PP (Summers, Painchaud), 8:03; 6. Wichita, Robinson (Trimm, Wight), 12:16; 7. Allen, Kerbashian PP (Maiani, Schaafsma), 13:21; 8. Wichita, Painchaud empty net (Wight, Martens), 18:30. Penalties—Allen, Clarke (high sticking), 7:02; Wichita, Flath (slashing), 12:33; Allen, Penner (slashing), 19:54; Wichita, Young (roughing), 19:54.
Power play—Allen 1 for 3, Wichita 2 for 4.
Shots—Allen 10-9-14—33, Wichita 11-9-10—30.
Saves—Allen, Dell 25 on 29 shots; Wichita, Regan 8-9, Jung 22-24.