At this point in the season, the point in the standings that the Thunder left on the table is far more valuable than the one Wichita picked up by losing to Rapid City 4-3 in a sudden-death shootout.
Wichita climbed to within six points of Arizona for the eighth and final Central Hockey League playoff spot with 10 games to play, but the opportunity missed will linger longer than the satisfaction from hanging with one of the league’s top teams.
Eric Giosa’s goal in the first round of sudden death – after five regular shootout rounds – made the Thunder’s road to the postseason just a little more winding.
“We’ve got to take some positives out of it, can’t get too down,” said Thunder forward Ian Lowe, who sent the shootout to sudden death by scoring in the fifth regular round. “We got a point, but we have to win the games we can. We got one point, and we’ve got to move forward.”
Even though the game included a couple unwanted bumps, there wasn’t much for the Thunder to be upset about other than the final score.
Wichita finally broke through on the power play, a unit that has struggled for multiple weeks, it responded well to a deflating finish to the second period, and it locked down the league’s fourth-best offense for most of the third period.
The bumps, though, contributed to the loss even if the Thunder adeptly responded to them. The Rush scored with one second remaining in the second, a continuation of a trend that has seen the Thunder allow six goals in the final 90 seconds of periods since Feb. 21.
“Those are tough ones,” Lowe said. “Anything with two minutes or under left in the period, you have to shut down and not let them score. Those are big goals going into an intermission.
“That’s happened quite a bit lately, and I’m not sure why. It takes all your confidence and momentum away. It’s something we’ve got to work on here the last eight or nine games and not let that happen.”
This time, though, the Thunder responded. Wichita scored two goals within the first nine minutes of the third period to take the lead.
“That’s not called proud, it’s called playing the game,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “That’s why we try and instill here, you don’t quit. We come back, and the power play gives us a good opportunity, and we come through when we needed it.”
So, too, did Rapid City, as the Rush tied it less than two minutes after the Thunder took the lead. The teams came tantalizingly close to breaking the tie during the end of the third period and in overtime, but it wasn’t decided until both teams were assured of at least one point in the standings.
Which wasn’t quite enough for the Thunder.
“We’ve got to play pretty perfect hockey here for the rest of the season,” McClelland said.
Scoring—None. Penalties—Rapid City, Harvey (interference), 9:52; Rapid City, Brown (slashing), 17:50.
Scoring—1. Rapid City, Schultz (Brown, Giosa), 3:24; 2. Wichita, Leppanen (Booras), 11:06; 3. Rapid City, Day Chief PP (Weselowski), 19:59. Penalties—Rapid City, Preece (holding), 5:28; Wichita, Dudas (holding), 8:29; Rapid City, Perdicaro (roughing), 13:24; Wichita, Booras (hooking), 18:00.
Scoring—4. Wichita, M. Wilson (Booras), 6:45; 5. Wichita, Martens PP (Summers, Dudas), 8:28; 6. Rapid City, Weselowski (Schultz, Giosa), 10:24. Penalties—Wichita, Donaghy (slashing), 1:11; Rapid City, Llewellyn (roughing), 4:10; Rapid City, Brown (roughing), 7:08; Wichita, Lizon (roughing), 12:01; Rapid City, Harvey (roughing), 12:01.
Rapid City—Brown no, Perdicaro no, Schultz yes, Day Chief yes, Brannon no, Giosa yes; Wichita—Summers no, Klempa yes, Flath no, Booras no, Lowe yes, Dudas no.
Power play—Rapid City 1-3, Wichita 1-6. Shots—Rapid City 7-17-4-3-1—32, Wichita 9-14-12-0-0—35. Saves—Rapid City, Savage 32-35; Wichita, Brown 28-31.