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Thunder coming up on final playoff push

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, March 9, 2014, at 12 a.m.

Rapid City at Thunder

When: 5:05 p.m. Sunday

Where: Intrust Bank Arena

Records: Rapid City 34-20-1, Thunder 23-27-5

Radio: KKLE, 1550-AM

The Thunder trails Arizona by seven points for the final Central Hockey League playoff spot and Arizona appears to have an easier late-season schedule. And that’s the good news for the Thunder.

The seven-point deficit, through Friday, isn’t quite as daunting because the Sundogs, after Saturday, will have played three more games than the Thunder. If Wichita wins those three, wherever they happen to fall on the schedule, its remaining work would be less overwhelming.

Arizona’s schedule also isn’t a major factor because, even though the Sundogs play their final eight games at home, the final three are against Wichita. If the Thunder remains within striking distance until then, those games will carry season-defining circumstances.

After two wins at Brampton in a three-game series there, the Thunder was more involved in playoff scenarios. Since then, however, Wichita has dropped six of seven games. And that’s only part of the bad news.

“We come back from Brampton and we’re not in great shape, but we’re in good shape,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “We let a couple games slip away where just a little extra would have gotten us over the hump and we just couldn’t find it.”

Making a playoff push over the final 11 games could be even more likely if recent injuries to top scorers Matt Robinson and Jon Booras continue to hamper the Thunder.

Robinson was injured Feb. 28 against Tulsa and won’t return Sunday against Rapid City, according to McClelland. Booras, the team’s points leader, missed the last two games and is questionable Sunday. The Thunder doesn’t disclose the nature of player injuries.

Overcoming that will take production from other players that hasn’t been reached this season, or perhaps ever.

“Guys are getting a chance now,” McClelland said. “We need someone to have career games, big games. We see around the league someone having a three-goal game or a four-goal game, and that’s what we need right now.”

The Thunder may end up needing a lot of help to reach the postseason and avoid missing it for the first time in McClelland’s four seasons. Or, by finally starting a winning streak, it could rely solely on itself and let the final weekend be the determining factor.

“We just have to worry about our own games right now,” McClelland said. “Hopefully those last three games in Arizona will be meaningful.”

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