The buzz word from Thunder coach Kevin McClelland over the final weeks of this season used to be “desperation” – McClelland wanted the Thunder to exhibit urgency in its quest for the postseason.
There is no more buzz, as Wichita was eliminated from postseason contention with a 4-2 loss to Tulsa on Wednesday, but there is still a message.
Wichita can no longer play for the playoffs, but at least there’s a chance for the Thunder to feel better about itself during and after the final two games following a deflating defeat.
The Thunder plays host to Tulsa on Friday night before Saturday’s season finale against Allen at Intrust Bank Arena.
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“You’ve got to play for pride,” McClelland said. “Our fans deserve for us to go out and play hard.”
The fans who braved Wednesday’s severe weather – the announced crowd was 3,000 – saw an embodiment of McClelland’s directive as the Thunder played an assertive, confident game against its most difficult opponent.
Wichita led 2-1 well into the second period before a Tulsa short-handed goal permanently shifted momentum. The Oilers scored to break the tie with 42 seconds to go and added an empty-net score in the final seconds.
The Thunder, though, controlled the game for the first 48 minutes, dominating the puck and ending with a 40-26 shots advantage that stifled Tulsa’s high-speed offense for more than two-thirds of the game.
“You just have to go take a little pride in the game and finish it off with a win,” said Thunder captain Ian Lowe. “You can’t give up. You’ve got to keep playing and do it for all those people watching us and following us all year. You have to take a little pride in being a human being.”
Though it won’t carry any lasting ramifications, Wichita could also be eager to prove it can beat Tulsa. The Oilers have won 10 of 13 meetings this season, including five in a row by a combined 24-9 score.
Tulsa has more speed and more offensive skill than the Thunder, with five players with at least 60 points. The Oilers have proven to be Wichita’s worst matchup, essentially responsible for getting Tulsa to the playoffs and keeping the Thunder out.
“You look at Tulsa against Missouri and Missouri has had success against Tulsa,” McClelland said. “Allen has had success against Tulsa. It just happens. (Wednesday) I thought our guys did a heck of a job and played well.”
Tulsa at Thunder
When: 7:05 p.m. Friday
Where: Intrust Bank Arena
Records: Tulsa 36-29-2-3, Thunder 32-30-2-6