The video-board operator at the Allen Event Center picked the optimal time on Tuesday night to show a video mocking Thunder players for contrived intermission rituals. If it had been shown one minute later, not as many people would have seen it.
Shortly after the video, which displayed four seated actors in Thunder jerseys massaging one another, Chad Painchaud scored the final goal in Wichita’s 4-1 win. It sent many fans to the exits and was the dagger in the Thunder’s triumph in Game 1 of the Central Hockey League finals.
Wichita grabbed home-ice advantage for the seven-game series with a dominating performance that included a pair of goals from little used-forward Todd Griffith. Goalie Torrie Jung stabilized the Thunder during an aggressive start by the Americans and saved 15 of 16 shots overall.
The Thunder has won nine straight postseason games. Game 2 is Thursday night in Allen.
"This is a real tough environment," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "You saw that team battle hard; both teams battled hard tonight. At the end, we got the result we were looking for."
Wichita set up its convincing victory by surviving the first few minutes, during which Allen controlled the puck and sent several attempts toward the net. There were multiple potential momentum-shifting moments for the Thunder, including an acrobatic save by Torrie Jung on a 2-on-1 break and Wichita fighting off an early Americans power play.
The official shift didn’t happen until Griffith scored his first goal — or he was credited for it, anyway. Griffith went down near the goal, creating just enough of a distraction to Allen goalie Aaron Dell to allow the puck to slowly glide past him.
Griffith has been on Wichita’s active roster for three postseason games and hadn’t scored a goal in the first two. He continued the Thunder’s season-long trend of getting production from everyone who earned an opportunity, even if his first score was in less-than-traditional fashion.
"You don’t really take much from it," Griffith said. "A goal is a goal — they don’t ask how, they ask how many. It just bounced off me, and my body and momentum was going to the net. It’s always nice to get that first one, right? So that was a good one to get.”
The Thunder turned the first goal into an advantage in every facet that made the slim lead look more insurmountable for the Americans. Kevin Young and Andrew Martens, capable scorers as defensemen, helped keep Allen scoreless into the third period by batting away and clearing pucks from near the Americans’ goal.
Wichita held a physical edge as it does in most games, and Jung outplayed Dell, Allen’s rookie who was statistically the best regular-season goalie in the CHL.
The game was only in peril for the Thunder during a brief stretch in the third period. Trevor Ludwig scored a power-play goal, and suddenly Wichita’s 2-1 lead looked in jeopardy with 15 minutes to play. Danger was eliminated, however, 23 seconds later, when RG Flath scored on a long slapshot to regain the two-goal advantage.
"Anytime you can get a two-goal lead again it’s a good feeling," Flath said. "I don’t think guys started panicking at all. We’ve played a lot of one-goal games this year, and (in the first round) against Arizona, everything was a one-goal game. So we have the experience, and we’re not squeezing our sticks too tight."
If Allen had designs on cutting into Wichita’s two-goal lead in the third period, they were dashed by Jung’s continued excellent play in his ninth victory of the postseason and by Painchaud’s hustle-produced goal with slightly more than seven minutes to go.
The Americans lost one home game by three goals during the regular season, and their frustrations at a rare blowout on their own ice seemed to boil over as the final whistle sounded.
A fight broke out near Wichita’s goal and three penalties were assessed after the game had ended — two on Wichita. The teams jawed after the fight broke up but the Thunder players didn’t continue it for long, perhaps satisfied that a potentially series-shifting win was plenty vocal.
"You don’t really know, it’s Game 1," Griffith said. "They’re a good hockey team, and you never have too highs and you never have too lows. We’ve just got to be prepared for the next game — just know you’re prepared for Thursday and go from there."
Scoring—1. Wichita, Griffith (Reaney, Young), 16:47. Penalties—Wichita, Lutz (holding), 2:30; Allen, Maiani (too many men bench minor), 8:50; Allen, Kerbashian (charging goaltender), 12:26.
Scoring—2. Wichita, Griffith (Wight, Reaney), 2:49. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (hooking), 11:02; Wichita, Lowe (tripping), 14:51.
Scoring—3. Allen, Tr. Ludwig PP (Robinson, McMillin), 4:18; 4. Wichita, Flath (unassisted), 4:41; 5. Wichita, Painchaud (unassisted); 12:53. Penalties—Allen, Tr. Ludwig (hooking), 1:36; Wichita, Reaney (slashing), 4:05; Allen, Doyle (goalie interference), 8:38; Wichita, Madden (holding), 17:23; Wichita, Madden (roughing), 20:00; Wichita, Reaney (unsportsmanlike conduct), 20:00; Allen, Doyle (roughing), 20:00.