Regardless of how many shots the Thunder took and missed to start its CHL playoff game against Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, or how hot Killer Bees goalie John Murray was, the circumstances weren’t going to last forever.
Recent history has shown that they certainly weren’t going to last deep into the third period since few teams can match the Thunder’s depth and balance.
Few Thunder cold spells survive long in the third, when Wichita often turns games with questionable outcomes into no-doubters. Wichita missed its first 30 shots on Sunday, but tied the Killer Bees in the second and broke the tie early in the third on its way to a 2-1 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita took a 2-0 lead over the Bees in their best-of-seven first-round series. The Thunder, the top seed in the Berry Conference with home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, held serve at home and travels to Hidalgo, Texas for Game 3 on Wednesday.
"We’ve got our top two lines that are the two best lines in the league," Thunder forward Dustin Donaghy said. "We’ve got to keep it simple and make sure we’re playing a full game, that’s where the depth comes in."
The Thunder led the CHL with 89 third-period goals during the regular season, and its 34-goal advantage in the third led every other team by at least 10 goals. For the second straight game, Wichita erased a 1-0 first-period deficit, which become far less threatening to a team that knows its final-frame strength.
Wichita’s ability to mount another late rally was in doubt for more than half of the game, as Killer Bees goalkeeper John Murray stayed focused while Wichita relentlessly peppered him with shots.
Murray stopped Wichita’s first 30 shots; the Thunder’s apparent first score was a tease, as Matt Robinson was awarded a goal initially even though his 2-on-1 shot deflected off the crossbar. After a review and a conference, the officials ruled no goal and Murray’s hot streak stayed intact.
Murray’s excellence in goal wasn’t all that was working against Wichita early. The Thunder dominated as aggressors in Game 1, but Sunday the Killer Bees responded well to the physicality.
Wichita amped up its tenacity and was frequently penalized, totaling 12 penalty minutes in the first period after drawing eight during the entire first game. But the Thunder adjusted, going without a penalty in the second.
"They’ve got a good team over there and they’re smart, too," Donaghy said. "They were trying to get under our skin and it worked a little bit. We’ve just got to outsmart them. We’ve got to see that happening, and we did, and we kind of calmed down after the first period."
The Thunder also tied it in the second on a goal by Dustin Donaghy, who took advantage of clutter in the crease to slide a shot past Murray. Fellow third-liner Chris Greene provided the game-winner just more than three minutes into the third.
"We contribute when we can," Donaghy said. "We’re not going to be there every game with goal scoring, but when we do it’s a bonus. We’re obviously not trying not to score. We try to score, but we have to maintain and be solid defensively."
In Wichita’s Game 1 win, all but one point was scored by starting forwards Alex Bourret, Thomas Beauregard and RG Flath. Sunday, the third line of Donaghy, Greene and Chappell scored five points.
The Thunder’s depth and scoring ability from multiple players helped it offset a 0 for 7 showing in the power play. Wichita outshot the Bees 43-20 and Adam Russo’s athleticism in goal allowed the Thunder to maintain the lead.
"I think everybody feels good after a win like that," Russo said. "We battled through it and that’s what a team is. Playoffs are a whole new season and guys are stepping up.”