The Central Hockey League finals are rarely looking like a final confrontation between teams separated by a single point during the regular season.
Teams aren’t grinding out difficult wins that come down to who plays best over the final few minutes, as exhibited once again during the Thunder’s 5-2 victory Saturday night over Allen at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita took a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven series in which, so far, all games have been decided by three goals. The better team on any given night has been much, much better. Wichita won Game 1, 4-1 and Allen won Game 2, 5-2.
Game 4 in Sunday afternoon in Wichita.
While the back-and-forth nature of the series to this point indicates a possibility that it will be extended to seven games, it’s not offering much in the way of consistency. The scoring swings might not be an anomaly, because four of the teams’ games during the regular season were decided by three goals or more, with each team winning two.
There was some carryover from Game 2, when the third-period fisticuffs ceased only when 20 minutes ran off the clock. Thirteen players drew major penalties for fighting in the final period of Thursday’s game in Allen, and a similar situation Saturday threatened to escalate tensions once again.
Wichita forward Les Reaney was hit in the face by a stick held by Darryl Bootland, Allen’s leader in penalty minutes during the postseason. Bootland earned a match penalty and could be facing a suspension, but the Thunder didn’t put react beyond jeering at Bootland as he departed the ice.
That’s not to say the game wasn’t physical, however. Without perhaps its most daunting presence, defenseman Nathan Lutz, the Thunder still managed to establish that aspect of the game, as players who don’t often play that style laid hard hits in the opening minutes.
Lutz was suspended by the league for Game 3 after earning a match penalty with intent to injure for an apparent eye gouge to Allen defenseman Mike Berube during one third-period fracas. The Americans also played short-handed, without forward and captain Jason Deitsch, who was suspended for the game by the CHL after a high-sticking penalty Thursday.
Physicality isn’t the Thunder’s only strong suit. Wichita is also often superior in speed, as shown by rookie forward Greger Hanson on Saturday. Hanson combines that speed with strong vision and a knack for scoring, and he scored two goals Saturday.
Both goals involved shifty moves from Hanson. He eluded Allen’s defense to create a one-on-one situation in the first and held onto the puck long enough to pull Americans goalie Aaron Dell out of position before backhanding it by him.
In the second, Hanson found a brief opening with Wichita on the power play, and sneaked a goal past Dell from behind the net before Dell could regroup. That put the Thunder ahead 3-1 and allowed Wichita to regain control after Allen scored early in the period to create a one-goal deficit.
The strong finish to the second period carried the Thunder to a strong start in the third. Ian Lowe gave the Thunder a three-goal cushion by scoring just more than a minute into the third, an important insurance goal that tempered the necessity for such a score later.
A failure to score during a 5-on-3 advantage, which occurred later in the third and marked the second time that has happened to Wichita during the series, was easier to shrug off because the lead was already three.
Allen didn’t get much momentum from fighting off the two-man disadvantage, and Wichita added an empty-net goal by Chad Painchaud with three minutes to go before the Americans scored in the closing seconds.
Scoring—1. Wichita, Hanson (Flath), 5:05; 2. Wichita, Flath (Hanson, Robinson), 10:25. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (slashing), 12:06; Wichita, Martens (holding stick), 15:24; Wichita, Hanson (diving), 19:16.
Scoring—3. Allen, McMillin PP (Kerbashian, Robinson), 0:58; 4. Wichita, Hanson PP (Flath, Young), 10:21. Penalties—Allen, Robinson (slashing), 9:28.
Scoring—5. Wichita, Lowe (Young, Inman), 1:09; 6. Wichita, Painchaud empty-net (Inman, Lowe), 17:00; 7. Allen, McKenzie (Robinson, McMillin), 19:37. Penalties—Allen, Kerbashian (slashing), 6:23; Allen, Berube (slashing), 6;53; Bootland (high sticking, match penalty), 13:07; Wichita, Trimm (boarding), 15:51.
Power play—Allen 1 for 3, Wichita 1 for 5. Shots—Allen 4-11-5—20, Wichita 9-6-9—24. Saves—Allen, Dell 19 on 23 shots; Wichita, Jung 19 on 20 shots.