If Wichita fails to win its first-round CHL playoff series against Rio Grande Valley, it might not be as disappointing for Matt Robinson as the Thunder’s opening-round exit last season.
Robinson separated his shoulder in Game 4 of the series against Missouri and was unavailable for the deciding Game 5. Robinson, the team’s leader in goals, watched as the Thunder made a furious third-period rally before falling 5-4.
Robinson could have made the difference in that game and ultimately the series. He’s just as likely to provide a lift for the Thunder in the current postseason, in which the Thunder hold a 1-0 lead over Rio Grande in a best-of-seven series. Game 2 is today at Intrust Bank Arena.
"I knew we could have won that series," Robinson said. "Just watching the game and watching the guys do everything and coming up short by one goal just killed me."
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Although there’s no telling if Wichita would have won the game without Robinson, the effects of his loss were apparent.
The Thunder stumbled at the start, falling behind 4-1 to enter the third period. The late rally could have been fueled further by Robinson’s presence.
"It was huge," McClelland said. "Any time you go into the deciding game (without) one of your true leaders in the dressing room and a guy who got us to where we were, especially in a one-goal hockey game, you really notice a guy like that."
Robinson hasn’t won a championship at any level and has been eager this season for a second chance.
The Thunder built the CHL’s record on its depth and versatility — Wichita has several players who can fill a variety of roles and a complete roster that allows it to adapt to any style.
Any of Wichita’s multitude of scoring threats have the potential to take over any game or any playoff series, but Robinson might be the Thunder’s best bet. He had a league-best 10 game-winning goals during the regular season and feels comfortable with the pressure of handling the puck in tense situations.
"Since about halfway through my career, I’ve always been one of the guys to get the spark if we need a goal or maybe to get the game-winning goal," said the 26-year-old Robinson. "I like that pressure and I’ve kind of become used to it. It’s great for the team and I find that I handle it pretty well."
Robinson led the Thunder in goals for the second straight season, scoring 34, and was third on the team with 58.
His scoring ability was proven in several statistics, including but not limited to his league lead in game winners. Robinson tied for the Thunder lead with six power-play goals and was third on the team with a .187 shooting percentage.
Robinson had two goals through the first 12 games this season but began a scoring surge when the calendar hit 2012. From Jan. 6 through Feb. 26, Robinson scored 17 goals and had five of his seven two-goal games.
"I don’t know why that happens, but about every year I start off slow a bit, then I just catch my stride and I go on from there," Robinson said. "...Obviously, I wouldn’t have success without my line mates setting me up and helping me get that room to make those plays."
It would probably be a stretch to say the Thunder’s playoff hopes rest on Robinson’s performance. But he wouldn’t mind if they did.
"Going into these playoffs _ I won (team) MVP and I was nominated for CHL (MVP)," Robinson said. "I’m just confident that going into playoffs that I can continue and hold up my part and put the puck into the net and keep producing points and some wins to carry us onto the finals."