What may have just been token encouragement after a tough break turned into an accurate prognostication for the final minutes of the Thunder’s game Saturday night against Tulsa.
After Wichita’s Matt Robinson failed to convert a breakaway opportunity, teammate Travis Wight assured Robinson that he would get another chance to score and break a late tie.
Robinson’s chance came shortly thereafter and with a higher degree of difficulty. He scored an off-balance shot through traffic to provide the go-ahead goal in Wichita’s 6-3 win over the Oilers in front of 7,104 fans at Intrust Bank Arena. Neil Trimm had a pair of goals and Jon Madden scored his first as a professional on a third-period deflection.
Robinson was exasperated following his previous shot that became one of 37 saves for Tulsa goalie Shane Madolora. He was exuberant after his game-winning goal, which preceded an empty-netter by Kevin Young in the final minute.
"I wanted to crawl under a rock after that one," Robinson said. "Then actually Wighty came at me right after that and was like, ‘It’s OK. Relax. You’ll get it. You’re gonna get one.’ Then right after that, I got a lucky bounce. ...All game I’ve been trying to score on (Madolora) and it wasn’t going down."
Since outscoring Tulsa 19-6 in three games played between Oct. 20 and Dec. 15, the Thunder has had some of its most difficult games against the last-place Oilers, and Saturday’s followed that pattern.
Tulsa, with few scoring options behind Ryan Menei, who scored two goals Saturday, does its best to slow opponents down to compensate for a punchless offense and a porous defense. The Thunder has played uncomfortably against that approach over the last two months, splitting six games against the Oilers.
The two-goal win and a 43-13 advantage in shots on goal make it appears as if Saturday was an easy night for the Thunder, but it was anything but.
"It wasn’t (comfortable)," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "That team over there is playing with a lot of pride, and that’s what you’re going to get from a (Bruce Ramsay-coached) team. Things haven’t been going well for their hockey club, but they come out and play hard every night. They gave us all we wanted."
Tulsa had a 3-1 lead late in the second period mostly due to goalie performance. Thunder rookie Grant Rollheiser allowed three goals on Tulsa’s first nine shots, while Madolora stopped 29 of Wichita’s first 30.
Those trends reversed in the third, though. Usual starter Torrie Jung replaced Rollheiser and saved all three shots he faced, while the law of averages finally caught up to Madolora.
The Tulsa goalie, a bright spot on an otherwise struggling team, is apt to smother pucks and prevent rebound opportunities. Wichita did manage three rebound goals against him and wore him down by dominating the shot total.
"It is frustrating if you get that many shots and nothing is going for you," Robinson said. "As long as we stay positive. It’s not like we were just getting outplayed, we were getting our chances and that’s why we were staying positive. It’s bound to go in after a certain amount of shots."
Scoring — 1. Wichita, Trimm PP (Lutz, Inman), 18:11; 2. Tulsa, Menei (Fisher, Cramer), 19:40. Penalties — Wichita, Madden (holding), 5:00; Tulsa, Beausoleil (cross checking), 14:19; Tulsa, Weeks (hooking), 16:14; Tulsa, Ramsay (abuse of officials bench minor), 16:14; Wichita, Lowe (slashing), 17:12.
Scoring — 3. Tulsa, Menei (Madolora), 10:44; 4. Tulsa, Schafer (Weeks, Akins), 11:31; 5. Wichita, Trimm (Lowe, Lutz), 19:14. Penalties — Wichita, Griffith (too many men bench minor), 1:12.
Scoring — 6. Wichita, Madden (Inman, Griffith), 11:39; 7. Wichita, Robinson (Martens, Trimm), 16:27; 8. Wichita, Young empty net (Trimm, Lowe), 19:20. Penalties — Wichita, Griffith (too many men bench minor), 6:32; Tulsa, Akins (unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:44; Wichita, Donaghy (unsportsmanlike conduct), 14:44; Tulsa, Barlock (fighting major), 14:44; Wichita, Griffith (fighting major), 14:44.
Power play — Tulsa 0 for 4, Wichita 1 for 3. Shots — Tulsa 4-6-3—13, Wichita 20-12-11—43. Saves — Tulsa, Madolora 38 on 42 shots; Wichita, Rollheiser 7 on 10 shots, Jung 3 on 3 shots.
T — 2:31. A — 7,104.