On its social media platforms, the Thunder called Saturday’s game against Texas the most important for the franchise in more than a decade — and the significance could be felt as the Thunder clung to, then lost, an early one-goal lead.
Texas grasped the gravity of playing in Game 5 of the Berry Conference Finals, too. The Brahmas played evenly with Wichita for much of Saturday’s contest and tied it with their first goal late in the third period.
But Wichita endured the drama often reserved for playoff hockey but absent during the Thunder’s first four postseason home games, winning 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Chris Chappel, capping off a flurry of shots early in the period.
Wichita leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday in Texas, where a win would get the Thunder to the CHL Finals since 1998, where it was swept. Wichita won the title in 1994 and ’95.
The Thunder controlled the brief overtime, emerging from the 15-minute intermission with an energy it hadn’t maintained during the first 60 minutes. Several near misses were followed by Chappell’s goal, his third of the postseason.
The Thunder had trailed at least 1-0 in the previous nine postseason games and was dreadful on the power play, but captain Daniel Tetrault improved both of those statistics by scoring during Wichita’s man-advantage less than eight minutes in. That lead lasted about 35 minutes of game time before Texas’ Brett Findlay scored a power-play goal to tie it with 7:06 to go.
The Thunder’s home-ice advantage is playing a major role in the series and could prove to be its deciding factor.
Wichita often overmatched the Brahmas at IBA by playing physically, but its advantages are offset in Texas, where a smaller rink serves as an equalizer. The Thunder lost two games there after outscoring Texas 11-2 in the first two games at home.
On Friday, Wichita was seemingly outmanned for the first time during the playoffs. Texas held the physical edge and dragged the Thunder out of its comfort zone in a 2-1 Brahmas win.
The Thunder was clearly out to set a different tone on Saturday. Wichita has gingerly walked the line between intensity and excessive force, drawing three four misconduct penalties over the previous three games, and it was once again tip-toeing it on Saturday.
Wichita’s rough hits appeared to be the source of pent-up frustration from allowing a 2-0 series lead slip away, and the Thunder could have unraveled mentally if it surrendered the first goal for the 10th straight game.
But Tetrault, one of the Thunder’s most experienced player, kept it from those circumstances by firing a shot from the point past Brad Fogal for Wichita’s second power-play goal in 39 postseason chances.
The Thunder scored first and cashed in on the power play, but several facets of Saturday’s game were similar to other Thunder playoff wins at home.
Most notable was the performance of Adam Russo, who got allowed fewer than three goals for the sixth time at home during the playoffs. He stopped 20 shots and survived an urgent Brahmas attack during the third period.
Russo has been pulled during two of Wichita’s road losses but has been unbeatable at home, the embodiment of an identity that has the Thunder close to playing for a championship.
Scoring—1. Wichita, Tetrault PP (Beauregard), 12:11. Penalties—Wichita, Summers (holding), 1:57; Wichita, Sawyer (tripping), 8:12; Texas, Fox (tripping), 11:24; Wichita, Wight (tripping), 16:12.
Scoring—None. Penalties—Texas, Spady (slashing), 10:10; Texas, Hand (slashing), 16:03.
Scoring—Texas, Findlay PP (Lackner, Spady), 12:54. Penalties—Texas, Hogg (interference), 4:21; Wichita, Donaghy (tripping), 11:02.
Scoring—Wichita, Chappell (Summers, Robinson), 1:59. Penalties—None.
Power play—Texas 1 for 4 Wichita 1 for 4. Shots—Texas 7-2-12-0—21, Wichita 6-9-7-4—26. Saves—Texas, Fogal 24 on 26 shots; Wichita, Russo 20-21.