A pivotal moment in the second period of Game 4 of the Central Hockey League finals didn’t represent a shift in momentum as much as a shift in emotion.
The Thunder appeared on the verge of adding to its one-goal lead over Allen, or at least keeping it more comfortably than such a margin suggests. Wichita was controlling the game and not much was happening for the Americans.
But when the Americans tied it near the midway point of the second, they began playing with a renewed energy while the Thunder players momentarily lost theirs. Allen used that surge to score early in the third, the decisive goal in its 2-1 victory at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Americans evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 and host Game 5 on Tuesday. They regained home-ice advantage after losing the series opener in Allen. Game 6 is Friday in Wichita.
"I don’t think we had enough shots on goal at that point of the game," said Jason Deitsch, who scored the tying goal for American. "We needed to find something to get us going. We had an offensive-zone faceoff and had a good play. I just went to the net hard, and I got a bounce — I threw it off their defenseman and it went in.
"That was a big goal for us to tie it 1-1. It did lift us and got us playing with a little bit of momentum, and we started playing more in their zone."
Deitsch’s shot went off the skate of Wichita defenseman Andrew Martens, a break for Allen that Wichita didn’t receive in the early part of the second period.
The Thunder came close several times to following up Matt Summers’ first-period goal with another shot past Aaron Dell, but never received that fortunate bounce. Much of the credit belongs to Dell, who has had a difficult series but managed to play his best game when Allen needed it.
Dell was statistically the best CHL goalie as a rookie during the regular season, but has often been overcome by Wichita’s more experienced scorers and the Thunder’s depth. Summers backhanded a shot past Dell in the first after emerging with a loose puck, but Dell was steadfast from that point forward.
"Sometimes he has his off nights, and then there’s sometimes he’s kind of in it," Thunder forward Matt Robinson said of Dell. "Game 3 (a 5-2 Thunder win), you could tell he was kind of out of there, then tonight he made some big saves, especially near the end there. We peppered him with a lot of shots and a lot of chances, and he came up big there.
"You never know what you’re going to get with him. He’s either on his game or off it. But hopefully we can keep peppering him with some shots and put some goals in when we go to Allen."
Dell’s inconsistency has mirrored that of the Americans, who have lost three playoff games handily over the past two weeks, including one in the semifinals to Missouri, but responded with wins after all of them.
If there was ever a night for Allen’s troubles to snowball, it was Sunday, when the Americans were without forward Darryl Bootland and defenseman Trevor Ludwig. Bootland was suspended for Game 4 after drawing a penalty Saturday for hitting Wichita’s Les Reaney in the face with his stick, and Ludwig is out after being hit in the face with a puck in Game 3.
But Allen has thrived on unpredictability during the regular season and overcame those losses with an energetic return from Deitsch, its captain who was suspended for Game 3.
"Whatever is thrown our way, we have to deal with it," Deitsch said. "Bootland’s suspension, it happens, and whatever is thrown at us, we have to battle through it. Trevor, that’s a very tough break for him, and he’s a big part of our (defense) core. (Drew) Daniels stepped in. I don’t think he played a lot, but when he did he did a good job and helped us out."
Wichita lost its edge at an inopportune time during the second period. The Thunder was outshooting Allen 22-6 at one point, but when the Americans tied it they grasped the emotional advantage.
The Thunder didn’t regain it until the final minutes, when its urgency kicked in. Dell remained unflappable with Wichita owning a 6-on-5 advantage after pulling goalie Torrie Jung, keeping the Thunder from making up for its sluggish stretch.
"They played an unbelievable road game," Thunder forward RG Flath said. "They kind of lulled us to sleep, and actually both their goals were lucky bounces off guys. They stole one from us."
Scoring — 1. Wichita, Summers (Painchaud, Rainey), 12:31. Penalties — Allen, Maiani (interference), 10:28; Wichita, Lowe (tripping), 13:18; Allen, Hendrikx (elbowing), 13:33; Wichita, Flath (hooking), 15:00; Wichita, Robinson (picking up puck), 18:28.
Scoring — 2. Allen, Deitsch (McMillin, Schaafsma), 11:38. Penalties — Allen, McKenzie (hooking), 5:46; Wichita, Hanson (goalie interference), 6:34; Allen, Schaafsma (goalie interference), 7:47.
Scoring — 3. Allen, McMillin (Deitsch, Schaafsma), 2:46. Penalties — Allen, Lukin (hooking), 5:58; Wichita, Robinson (slashing), 13:49.
Power play — Allen 0 for 6, Wichita 0 for 4. Shots — Allen 6-12-6—24, Wichita 12-14-10—36. Saves — Allen, Dell 35 on 36 shots; Wichita, Jung 22 on 24 shots.
T — 2:28. A — 4,883.