The Thunder has avoided talking much about the possibility of a sweep of Allen in the Central Hockey League finals, not for fear of getting ahead of itself, but because it never seemed like a possibility.
The questions were inevitable because Wichita swept its first two playoff series; taking four in a row against the Americans without home-ice advantage wasn’t a consideration.
But after a 4-1 Thunder road win on Tuesday, the questions are back. Wichita thoroughly handled Allen, which finished with the CHL’s best regular-season record, bringing back into play the chances of a short series or even the shortest series.
Wichita set a CHL record Tuesday with its ninth straight playoff win, and the Thunder has won 11 straight overall. Talking about a sweep still isn’t something the players are ready to do in-depth, but outsiders can wonder because the Thunder has yet to be challenged during the postseason. Game 2 is Thursday night in Allen.
"Possibly," Thunder forward RG Flath said about the idea of a short series. "We just have to take it one game at a time. They’re a first-place team for a reason. We won that one, now we just get ready for Game 2."
Any talk of a sweep would be based more in reality than hyperbole. Wichita’s Game 1 win displayed several Thunder advantages, both tangible and intangible, expected and unexpected.
The Thunder is faster than Allen, deeper offensively and more balanced overall. The defensive issues Wichita encountered during last year’s loss in the finals to Fort Wayne have been corrected as full seasons from Kevin Young and Andrew Martens, as well as the contributions of first-year defenseman Nathan Lutz have given the Thunder an advantage in goal prevention.
Wichita also has experience and consistency on its side. A nine-game winning streak speaks for itself, but the Thunder has had little variance in its playoff performances. Wichita has scored three or more goals seven times and never allowed more than three, with two shutouts.
Allen has been less steady. During the last six games, Allen’s goal totals are 3, 8, 2, 2, 7 and 1. The Thunder’s consistency is perhaps more conducive to winning in the postseason, where low-scoring games are the norm.
Last year’s finals loss also is serving the Thunder well in pacing itself. A difficult Game 1 loss last year led to three blowouts by Fort Wayne, which won the series in five games.
"Last year — I don’t even remember last year," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "This is this year. We got Game 1, but we’ve got a long road ahead."
The more unexpected aspects of Wichita’s run and its Game 1 finals win are the tone-setting showings by goalie Torrie Jung — possibly the Thunder’s most valuable player during the playoffs — and scoring from an unlikely source on Tuesday.
Todd Griffith scored two goals, his first two-goal game since December. Griffith’s previous two goals were on March 10 and Dec. 28, both against Missouri. He missed more than a month due to injury and has played in three postseason games.
"It’s almost a bullpen by committee," McClelland said. "Every night there’s someone different. Griff’s biding his time. He’s had some injuries this year. He hasn’t been getting put in, but when he gets put in, that’s what he does."
Jung has outplayed Allen’s Aaron Dell, the league’s best regular-season goalie, a rookie who was on the CHL MVP ballot. A glove save on a 2-on-1 Allen break early in Tuesday’s game was a stabilizing factor in Wichita’s survival of the fast-paced opening minutes.
"He’s been rock-solid back there," Flath said. "He’s been lights-out for us. We have confidence in him, he has confidence in himself, and anytime you have confidence you play great."