This could happen easy enough, Wichita Thunder coach Kevin McClelland thought.
The refs were bad, his team was playing uninspired and that 4-1 first-period lead his team built? That was gone now.
“Usually, before, losing a lead like that could’ve put us over the top for a loss,” McClelland said. “But that didn’t happen tonight.”
Wichita’s RG Flath scored the game-winning goal with 2:22 left in the third period for a 5-4 win on Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena in front of 6,173 fans — the Thunder’s second win over Tulsa in as many nights. The victory also kept the Thunder in the Central Hockey League playoff hunt — after picking up four points in the standings in two games, Wichita is now four points back of Arizona for the final playoff spot.
“We’re not worrying about what anybody else is doing at this point,” Flath said. “We focus on us and what we can do.”
What Wichita did in the first period was put the Oilers in a deep hole. Wichita’s Tomas Klempa opened the scoring on a pretty backhander for a 1-0 lead with 12:40 left to play, then after Tulsa’s Blair Macaulay answered with the first of his three goals to tie the score 1-1, Wichita’s offense seemed unstoppable.
First, a slapshot from about 20 feet out from Wichita’s Andrew Martens flew past Tulsa goalie Brad Fogal for a 2-1 lead with 4:32 left in the first. Matt Summers scored another goal for a 3-1 lead with 1:57 left. Matt Robinson made it 4-1 with just three seconds left.
“They say the worst lead in hockey is a three-goal lead,” Flath said. “Once they started scoring it put a lot of pressure on us.”
Macaulay scored two goals in the first five minutes of the second period to make it 4-3 — the second came on a Tulsa power play. Nathan Lutz tied the score for the Oilers at 4-4 with 10:07 left in the game.
McClelland, when asked what he thought was the referees’ most egregious error on Saturday, deadpanned.
“They put their skates on,” he said.
His team wasn’t done, however.
Flath smacked in the first of three rebound shots — the Tulsa defenders didn’t get a stick down the entire time — and got one past Fogal for the game-winner.
“They don’t ask how,” Flath said. “They only ask how many.”
The Thunder will try to close out the three-game weekend sweep at Tulsa at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Scoring—1. Wichita, Klempa (Summers, Flath) 12:40; 2. Tulsa, Macaulay (Beausoleil, Bochek) 5:36; 3. Wichita, Martens (Summers) 4:32; 4. Wichita, Summers (Flath, Klempa) 1:57; 5. Wichita, Robinson (Booras, Lowe) :03. Penalties—Wichita, Gruenke (fighting), 17:59; Tulsa, Leblond (fighting), 17:59.
Scoring—6. Tulsa, Macaulay (Beausoleil, Bochek), 19:37; 7. Tulsa, Macaulay (Fisher, Gordon), 14:09. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (boarding) 19:01.
Scoring—8. Tulsa, Lutz (Fisher, Gordon) 9:53; 9. Wichita, Flath (Lizon, Donaghy). Penalties—Tulsa, Menei (butt-ending) 6:24.
Power play—Tulsa 1 for 3, Wichita 0 for 5. Shots — Tulsa 11-16-9—36, Wichita 19-4-8—32. Saves — Tulsa, Fogal 32 on 37 shots; Wichita, Brown 32-36.