If any team is fit to handle the mystifying emotions of an unpredictable game, it’s the Thunder, which has had a hockey season reflective of such bemusement.
The Thunder appeared down and out on multiple occasions Tuesday night against Denver, but Ian Lowe tied it as an extra attacker with 65 seconds to go and an Andrew Martens overtime power-play goal gave Wichita a 4-3 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita once folded in situations like Tuesday’s, when Denver scored a tiebreaking goal early in the third and held down the Thunder for the next 12-plus minutes. Wichita’s ability to gut out a victory may have as much to do with familiarity with inconsistency as it does with the Thunder’s resolve, though one probably led to the other.
“We got the two points, and we found a way to win,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “At the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t — we would have lost that game. When they scored that third goal, they would have made it four, five. We stuck with it.”
The Thunder (17-19-4) was still riding an emotional high from Lowe’s late-in-regulation goal when Denver presented Wichita an opportunity to turn it into something more than the one point earned for getting to overtime.
Denver’s Steve Kaunitso was penalized for cross checking, giving the Thunder a one-minute power play in the five-minute, 4-on-4 period. Assistant coach Jason Duda beckoned his best power-play unit, and Martens mentally summoned McClelland’s frequent urgency to get shots to the net.
In the midst of an emotional few minutes, calmness also served the Thunder. After the puck deflected off the boards near center ice, Martens serenely chased it down before skating inside the blue line and firing a shot through traffic past Travis Bosch.
The goal punctuated a long stretch in which the Thunder outplayed Denver but nearly had nothing to show for it.
“It was absolutely a huge opportunity, any time you get a power play,” Martens said. “We’re put out there for a reason, to get the job done. It’s awesome when you’ve got momentum going your way, too. It was a big goal.
“I had a lane to the net and (McClelland) has been harping on getting pucks to the net no matter how hard you’re shooting it. I had a lane there, and I got a good screen with (Lowe) in front, and it found a way in the back of the net.”
Wichita may not have been in position for such important goals if not for a strong final 10 minutes of the second period. At one point, Denver was outshooting the Thunder 23-11 and Wichita seemed to have no answer for the Cutthroats’ top line that included top scorers Garrett Bembridge and Troy Schwab.
In the second half of the second, though, the Thunder began to limit Denver’s playmakers, though Bembridge and Schwab teamed up for Denver’s third-period score. The shot deficit narrowed, as did the deficit that mattered, with the Thunder getting goals from Tomas Klempa and Mike Wilson to tie it 2-2.
“We generated some more stuff, we had some energy,” McClelland said. “Wilson, (Nick McParland) and (Dustin Donaghy) had some good shifts there in the second and the other guys fed off it.”
“We stepped up huge and found a way to put the momentum back on our shoulders and carry that a little bit,” Martens said. “We gave up one in the third, but getting that one back late was huge and it shows a lot about our character.”
Character that has been molded from adversity and a season’s worth of unsteadiness that the Thunder could finally use to its advantage.
“It was a good win, and that’s what we’re going to take out of it,” McClelland said. “We got two points that are real valuable to our organization right now.”
Scoring—1. Denver, Soudek (Fox, MacKenzie), 9:35. Penalties—Wichita, Gruenke (slashing), 11:03; Wichita, Donaghy (fighting major), 17:22; Denver, Barczuk (fighting major), 17:22; Wichita, Booras (hooking), 19:17.
Scoring—2. Denver, Schwab PP (Bembridge, Kaunisto), 0:27; 3. Wichita, Klempa (Summers, Booras), 1:55; 4. Wichita, M. Wilson (Klempa, Flath), 18:41. Penalties—Denver, MacKenzie (boarding), 2:31; Wichita, Flath (interference), 5:21.
Scoring—5. Denver, Bembridge (Schwab, Barczuk), 6:57; 6. Wichita, Lowe extra attacker (Martens, Booras), 18:55. Penalties—Denver, Moffie (elbowing), 10:52.
Scoring—6. Wichita, Martens PP (Dudas, Booras), 1:14. Penalties—Denver, Kaunisto (cross checking OT minor), 0:26.
Power play—Denver 1-3, Wichita 1-3. Shots—Denver 13-8-11-1—33, Wichita 7-11-13-1—32. Saves—Denver, Bosch 28-32; Wichita, Brown 30-33.